Self-driving vehicle testing in Pittsburgh area shifting gears to focus on trucking industry

October 3, 2023

Not long ago, cars topped with a futuristic apparatus could regularly be seen cruising along Pittsburgh’s streets, testing technology that allowed the vehicles to get around without a person steering the wheel.

But such car sightings have become rare as the autonomous vehicle sector has refocused from the hype of the 2010s…

Karen Lightman, executive director of the Metro21 Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, called it “tech-lash.”

“People react out of fear of technology,” Lightman said.

Although there are challenges for passenger vehicles, Lightman said, the technology is poised to improve people’s lives.

“People who are disabled or don’t have access to reliable, safe transportation can be cut off from the rest of the world. They can’t work, get groceries, go to worship, can’t see friends and family,” Lightman said. “There’s a whole chunk of our country that’s disconnected because we don’t have public transportation that serves them.”

“I’m hoping that we’ll see public transportation also become more automated and autonomous, and shared mobility will be a critical part of it,” she added. “If we end up having more single-occupancy vehicles that happen to be autonomous, we’re not improving quality of life. And if it’s just for the rich elite, that’s not sustainable, either. We have to make sure there’s equity in this.”

Scoop: Driverless Cruise cars are already on Houston streets

October 2, 2023

Cruise is testing autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in Houston ahead of a planned expansion into commercial nighttime service by the end of the year.

Driving the news: A spokesperson for the autonomous vehicle company confirmed to Axios Tuesday it is offering driverless ride-hailing service to employees and their friends and family, one of the final steps in its testing process before full commercial service…

A 2017 Texas law preempts local regulation of autonomous vehicles, which has made the state fertile ground for companies’ expansion.

State law requires companies to follow registration requirements, equip the vehicles with a video recording system and immediately notify authorities of a crash.

Carnegie Mellon associate professor Phil Koopman, an expert in AV safety, told Axios’ Joann Muller that “cities need to have a plan for enforcing traffic laws when there is no driver.”

America Is Just Now Entering the Age of Tesla

September 22, 2023

The Jeep Wrangler was built to drive out past where the power lines end. Watch any ad for the car, and you’ll surely see it surmounting boulders and conquering muck in places far from the beaten freeway. Electric-vehicle chargers may be scarce in the wilderness, but even a military-derived four-by-four must keep with the times. To the delight of Earth-loving off-roaders, Jeep has announced that the first all-electric Wrangler is in the works…

“Jobs at gasoline engine manufacturing plants will shift to jobs at electric motor and battery plants.” Jeremy Michalek, Vehicle Electrification Group, is quoted in this story looking at what the rise of electric vehicles means for autoworkers. He notes assembling an EV is a simpler task than building its gasoline counterpart. There’s still welding and painting to be done, but EVs don’t require the spark plugs, engine cylinders and hoses and belts that are part of the typical vehicle assembly process.

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Pittsburgh’s top driverless carmakers are pivoting to trucks. What does that mean for driverless cars’ future?

September 19, 2023

Bryan Salesky, Peter Rander and Brett Browning, all industry veterans and former leaders of the Pittsburgh robotaxi company Argo AI, are some of the brightest minds in autonomous vehicle development.

Their pivot from self-driving cars to self-driving trucks is the latest sign of how difficult it is to fully take our hands off the wheel, industry experts and researchers said.

“It is becoming more and more evident that automating trucks and transportation on highways is a more realistic goal for AVs than solving the general urban traffic automation problem,” said Dimi Apostolopoulos, senior scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and the National Robotics Engineering Center…

Experts say a commitment to safety will be a key part of future regulatory approvals and positive public perception…

“The safety problem is receiving a lot of attention in autonomous driving, but so far a definitive solution has not emerged,” said John Dolan, a principal scientist at the CMU Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research. The problem is especially acute for trucks given their size and momentum and the damage they can cause in accidents, he said.

Curb-management innovations: Lessons from smart and zero-emission loading zone pilots

September 18, 2023

Cities are implementing “smart loading zones” to address the growing competition for curb space, driven largely by increasing online orders, ride-sharing, outdoor dining, micromobility needs and open streets efforts.

What makes the zones smart? These designated areas for delivery drivers to load and unload goods are managed by telecommunications and advanced monitoring systems that allow authorized drivers to reserve a space for a limited amount of time through a smartphone app or other mechanism. Other cities are increasing incentives for electric or human-powered delivery vehicles by implementing zero-emission delivery zones.

While such efforts can encourage more orderly curbs, cities have encountered implementation challenges including local business pushback, technical challenges and regulatory barriers.

Here’s what experts and city officials experimenting with curb management strategies say they’ve learned to date.
-Pittsburgh’s gradual SLZ roll-out
In 2021, Pittsburgh received a $100,000 grant from the Department of Energy to establish 20 smart loading zones, said David Onorato, executive director of the Public Parking Authority of Pittsburgh, which oversaw the project.

AI playing increasing role in managing traffic on nation’s roads

September 15, 2023

From traffic signals to traffic flow, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, information on what’s happening on all the roads in Delaware streams into the state’s Transportation Management Center…

That complex system involves traffic lights, cameras and sensors, along with data coming in from weather stations and emergency responder channels, which all coalesce within A.I. The artificial intelligence then makes traffic-management decisions based on that information…

“In any computing system, the more information a system has, the better decisions it can make,” said Stan Caldwell, executive director of the Traffic 21 Institute at Carnegie Mellon University…

Last December, Caldwell spoke about how self-driving vehicles will be communicating with these so-called ‘smart roads’ in the near future. That testing is ongoing in a number of states, including Virginia and Ohio.

“There will be positive impacts and there will be negative impacts,” he said. “And so being able to get that real-world data in a real-world environment is very important for the researchers to be able to help guide the policymakers in how to manage this in the future.”

Your Next Green Car May Run on Gas and Get 100 Miles to the Gallon

September 12, 2023

Sayan Biswas is inventing an unusual kind of green car: one that burns gas…

Squeezing more efficiency out of internal combustion engines is a difficult challenge. Engineers have been designing and redesigning car engines for more than a century, and in recent years progress has slowed. To Biswas, the problem came down to one thing: a better spark plug…

Cars equipped with plasma spark plugs could have a big impact on efforts to tame climate change. But trucks, boats, planes and helicopters may be a bigger opportunity. Unlike cars, all-electric versions of heavier, higher-powered vehicles can’t yet match the range of gas or diesel engines at a reasonable cost.

“Moving heavy vehicles like school buses. construction equipment and big trucks to electrification will definitely be slower,” says Kate Whitefoot, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University who studies transportation. “That’s where improving the efficiency of internal combustion engines will be important.”

Addressing School Transportation Challenges

September 8, 2023

As the 2023-24 school year begins, students, parents, and school staff all understandably have many things on their minds. One thing that has become a consistent worry, especially since the pandemic, is an ongoing crisis in the school transportation system, spurred mostly from a constant shortage of school bus drivers. The Pennsylvania School Bus Association recently reported that, across the state, transportation providers are 3,500 drivers short. Allies for Children continues to address school transportation challenges, making sure that all students who need transportation are able to get to school…

In June of 2022, a Joint Commission of the PA General Assembly released a report to address the overall student transportation system…

All of the report’s recommendations have been summarized here by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Allies for Children’s work has been focused on developing regional transportation routes for charter and non-public school systems. Under such a system, students living in adjacent school districts would be transported on shared bus routes, reducing the overall number of drivers needed to transport these students to charter and non-public schools. We are continuing to work on enacting a model of regional transportation routes with partners at Carnegie Mellon University and several Allegheny County School Districts.

USDOT Deputy Secretary meets CMU transportation researchers

September 6, 2023

U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg visited Carnegie Mellon University facilities at Mill 19 on August 21 to meet with transportation researchers and officials to discuss how their research, development, and deployment (RD&D) initiatives will impact mobility.

Carnegie Mellon is working closely with the USDOT to transform the U.S. transportation system through research that focuses on safety, economic growth, climate and sustainability, and equity.

This spring, Carnegie Mellon was awarded $20 million over the next five years from the USDOT to lead Safety21, a University Transportation Center (UTC). This center focuses on the USDOT’s chief concern—safety. Safety21, which includes partners from across the country, aims to develop and deploy autonomous, networked, and integrated transportation technologies and systems with safety and equity in mind.

Carnegie Mellon has a long history of innovation in transportation, and Safety21 is CMU’s fourth University Transportation Center since 2012. CMU will complete its third UTC focused on mobility, Mobility21 this fall. The university serves to bring together the federal, private, and nonprofit sectors to provide research and other input to help the USDOT achieve its strategic goals.

San Francisco Launches Driverless Bus Service Following Robotaxi Expansion

August 29, 2023

San Francisco has launched an autonomous shuttle service — less than a week after California regulators approved the expansion of robotaxis despite traffic and safety concerns…

“Trained operators are going to be required even as we increase automation,” said Nikolas Martelaro, autonomous-vehicle researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. “So the question there may not be how worried should someone be about losing their job versus what should they be thinking about the potential training that’s required.”

Autonomous driving technology could make buses safer, but requiring drivers or attendants on-board could undermine one of their perceived advantages: reduced labor costs.

“We still have to find a market for them,” said Art Guzzetti, vice president at the American Public Transportation Association. “We’re doing it to make the trip better, more efficient, not to take the worker’s job.”

Mustang Mach-E probe reveals electric vehicle adoption issues

August 28, 2023

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Monday that the agency is currently looking into Ford’s 2022 recall of 49,000 Mustang Mach-E EVs…

But the core of this investigation – EV battery sensitivity to fast charging – represents a “potentially bigger hurdle” to broad EV adoption, according to Jeremy Michalek, Carnegie Mellon professor of engineering and public policy. Though the issue isn’t “universal,” it does reach beyond the Mustang Mach-E, Michalek said in an interview with TheStreet.

“Some battery chemistries are very robust to fast charging while others degrade very quickly. So it does depend what kind of battery the electric vehicle has in it, how sensitive it will be to fast charging,” he said. “But there are batteries being used today that are sensitive to fast charging and will degrade the battery much more quickly.”

FHWA Awards Nearly $9M for Innovative Highway, Bridge Work

August 25, 2023

The Federal Highway Administration has awarded a total of $8.8 million to eight states and the District of Columbia for demonstration projects that propose to use state-of-the-art technologies for highway and bridge infrastructure durability, safety and asset management. The awards, announced Aug. 22, went to 10 projects and come from FHWA’s Accelerated Innovation Deployment Demonstration program, known as AID…

Dr. Chris Hendrickson, an emeritus professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said via email, “Pursuing innovation is essential to make transportation more cost-effective and efficient.”

Hendrickson added that the AID program “is critical funding to incentivize and reinforce a new innovation culture in state DOTs.”

He also said that besides the FHWA program, State Transportation Innovation Councils are promoting advances in the field,

For example, Hendrickson noted that the council in Pennsylvania “has enabled a fast track for scaling innovations identified by state employees, industry and academia.”

Should phone calls be allowed on planes? You probably won’t like the answer.

August 23, 2023

The anti-call passengers make a valid point about unwanted noise. The cabin of an airliner can be chaotic and loud, so why add to the confusion?

But their main argument that it somehow makes a flight less safe doesn’t fly. Swarun Kumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said aviation safety experts are no longer concerned that wireless calls could interfere with cockpit equipment.

“In fact, using data when airborne is technically not a violation, and, of course, plenty of travelers use in-flight Wi-Fi,” he said.

So maybe the time is right to consider allowing phone calls on domestic airlines, which EU regulators have already recognized. You can’t turn the cabin into a no-call zone in 2023. People need to communicate. But there’s a right way to do it.

Battle Lines Drawn over Automotive Data Collection

August 23, 2023

As July came to a close, the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA) announced that it was launching a review of the data protection regimes, or lack thereof, covering assisted driving systems…

Yet some observers, like Choudhuri, see this as an opportunity for such businesses rather than a burden. “While initial reactions might view these regulations as cumbersome or barriers to innovation, they can serve as catalysts…

They should be careful, however, because customers can be sensitive to practices seen as financially exploitative. Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, pointed out: “There is a ton of value in tracking user habits for marketing purposes. It is hard to imagine that this value will go untapped within cars. However, carmakers and their suppliers need to respect privacy and only use versions that filter out user identities. Else, there will be a backlash at some time or the other.”

Level 3 Automated Vehicles and Criminal Law

August 16, 2023

Current events focus a spotlight on potential criminal liability for operation of an automated vehicle. In Arizona, the safety driver in an Uber robotaxi pled guilty to negligent homicide for a fatality that occurred while an automated driving system (ADS) was engaged. Shortly before that, the owner of a Tesla pled no contest to a charge of negligent homicide for fatalities caused while Tesla AutoPilot, which automates vehicle control under driver supervision, was engaged.

In both cases, automation controlled the braking, speed and steering of the vehicle at the time of the accident. Prosecutors in both cases pursued criminal charges against the human operator on the theory that, despite use of an automation system, both drivers had ultimate responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle. Assignment of responsibility to the human operator in these cases is consistent with limited existing case law. However, the decision to prosecute ignored the very real problem of automation complacency as an excuse, though it may have been a mitigating factor in sentencing without jail time.

Fujitsu to take expanded presence at new Avenu Workspaces coworking set up in Oakland

August 15, 2023

Fujitsu, a publicly traded Japanese company with more than 120,000 employees worldwide, is working to ramp up its presence in Pittsburgh.

The company has committed to being the first new tenant in a new Avenu Workspaces location at 115 Atwood St., where it can spread out in triple the size of its initial location with Avenu at its Meyran Avenue space, a relatively short walk away in the heart of Oakland.

The new space will be bigger for Fujitsu, but specific details on the amount of space the lease will be were not provided in an announcement about the move by InnovatePGH, which operates the Avenu coworking spaces.

According to the organization, Fujitsu has been collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University through its Mobility Data Analytics Center and Computational Behavior Lab. The company is involved with projects through the two labs to evaluate measures to control traffic flow as well as to model how pedestrians behave in urban environments.

How to Find the Cheapest Ride-Sharing Option

August 14, 2023

That got me thinking: Maybe I could benefit from some advice on how to use ride-hailing services — and save money.

I asked academics, travelers and ride-hailing experts. And much like the ride-hailing industry itself, the answers I received were all over the map…

“The best strategy today is to have access to many services and to use each one when it best fits your trip needs,” says Stan Caldwell, executive director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 Institute, which focuses on transportation issues.

For example, he says savvy travelers should consider using Uber or Lyft to get from home to a transit hub. Or they should use the ride-hailing services late at night when mass transit isn’t running.

On other trips, a Zipcar rental or even a bike share or scooter might be more appropriate.

Driving Innovation: Breakthrough AI Research Revolutionizes Autonomous Vehicles

August 11, 2023

Addressing the challenge of slow inference time is crucial for making transformer-based models more practical and accessible for real-world applications like autonomous vehicles and Social robots.

The latest research led by Mr. Apoorv Singh, a Machine Learning Scientist at an autonomous vehicle company, enabled such a computation-hungry transformer model to be deployed in real-time on autonomous cars. This research involves multiple practical and theoretical hypotheses that scaled down the inference time of the Transformers-based Computer Vision model by 63%, keeping a similar detection performance. His research was published at the Autonomous Driving session of the IEEE CVPR conference, held in Vancouver, Canada, in July 2023. Mr. Singh, a robotics graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, has also published multiple patents and research articles in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Vehicles convergence. Mr. Singh has represented autonomous vehicle research as a keynote speaker and panelist at US-based IEEE conferences.

Electric vehicle owners in Pittsburgh find creative ways to charge up as the city adjusts to shifting transportation trends

August 9, 2023

Recently, a team that includes Corey Harper, an assistant civil and environmental engineering professor at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Information Systems and Public Policy, received a grant from the Department of Energy to do research on EV charging infrastructure.

“We saw that, right now, in Pittsburgh, a lot of the charges are located in areas where there are either a lot of shops near the schools, or the Downtown area,” he explains to City Paper, referring primarily to the neighborhoods surrounding CMU and the University of Pittsburgh. “So, you know, pretty well-off areas.”

Harper explains that his DoE-funded research looks at creating “optimization tools” for cities, in this case, Pittsburgh and Seattle, to best determine where EV chargers should be located based on a number of factors.

Harper says that, while there’s a growing demand to adopt EV technology, Pittsburgh and other U.S. cities need to make the transition in an equitable way.

Study: Bridge tolling comes with questionable trade-offs

August 9, 2023

A case study of how traffic would change if a nominal toll were added to Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia illustrates the trade-offs: PennDOT could raise significant revenue, but traffic time would increase — as would emissions.

The study, done for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, estimated a $1 toll on the bridge would bring in about $30,500 per day and $46,700 per day with a $2 toll during morning peak hours. Annually, those tolls would be $11.1 million and $17 million, respectively…

“We’re talking about how to make a good compromise among different stakeholders,” Sean Qian, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of the study, said. “PennDOT, I do see their perspective because it’s important to have extra revenue to fix the infrastructure. Especially for Pennsylvania, it’s a big challenge.”

Switch to EVs could save state and local governments up to $360 million, study says

August 8, 2023

A new report from PennEnvironment shows local and state governments in Pennsylvania could save up to $360 million over the next 10 years by switching retiring fleet vehicles to electric models…

Paulina Jaramillo, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and wasn’t involved in the report, said the strategy of transitioning government fleets to EVs is reasonable. However, she pointed out the cost-savings could be reduced where more infrastructure for these vehicles is needed to be built.

“The problem is that those benefits are spread over time but you need to pay for the infrastructure now, so how are you gonna get that cash in hand?” she said.

She mentioned the report identified state and federal incentives for electrification in the Inflation Reduction Act – such as the Commercial Clean Vehicle Tax Credit– that could help make the switch to EVs. The incentives could also help to build the needed charging infrastructure for EVs.

Seven Automakers to Roll Out Massive EV Charger Network Next Year

August 8, 2023

BMW and six other major automakers plan to begin rolling out a massive North American network of high-powered electric vehicle (EV) chargers in mid-2024…

Early EV adopters often have a place to charge at home and own multiple vehicles, said Jeremy Michalek, professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering. “With the longer range of today’s EVs, they typically only need public chargers on long trips,” he said.

The primary problem is that Americans tend to take long trips at the same time around peak travel holidays, like Memorial Day or Thanksgiving, Michalek said.

“It’s going to be a challenge to deploy enough public charging infrastructure to avoid long queues on peak travel days, and if we do build enough for peak travel days a lot of it will sit unused much of the rest of the year,” he said.

“As EVs become more mainstream and move into used car markets, the other main problem is that households that lack off-street parking with residential charging will need to rely heavily on public charging infrastructure for everyday use,” he added.

Can Self-Driving Go Mainstream Within 10 Years? Watch This Debate

August 8, 2023

Billions are being invested in self-driving technology each year, and some question why it isn’t further along today, whether it can be really made to work and whether it can be a business that scales and makes profits for the many companies in the game.

To address these questions, I engaged this week in a formal debate. Taking the negative was Professor Raj Rajkumar from CMU. Raj was one of the team leaders when CMU won the DARPA Urban Challenge — the contest that really got the self-driving robocar world going.

For those who prefer, here is a transcript of my opening statement. For the rest you will need to go to the debate. In addition to the opening and rebuttals, there are 3 sub sections on:

Is Tesla’s approach viable at all?
What are the prospects for self-driving consumer vehicles?
What are the prospects for commercial services.

Grocery delivery is less sustainable than shopping in store

July 31, 2023

Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering researchers (CMU Research) released its latest findings looking at the impacts of grocery delivery on energy use, emissions, and traffic congestion — including whether there might be a better way to manage and optimize deliveries. What it found is that grocery delivery was less energy efficient than people shopping for products themselves.

The research aims to provide a new set of insights for organizations to integrate into ecommerce and grocery delivery trends for long-range, and more sustainable transportation planning.

The global pandemic created a surge of ecommerce purchases and online grocery delivery services out of necessity, and many of those fulfillment methods are still being used today.

“Right now, most people go to the grocery store on their way home from work, or during off-peak hours,” said Destenie Nock, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy.

VR for self-driving cars makes training safer, more efficient

July 26, 2023

Researchers at the Ohio State University (OSU) have now unveiled a new method for training self-driving cars that works like virtual reality for autonomous vehicles (AVs), making the AIs “think” the car is in one place when it’s actually in another.

A developer could use the tech to make the AV believe it’s approaching a busy intersection, for example, when it’s really just driving around an empty lot. The key feature here, which makes it different from a pure simulation, is that the system is operating a real, physical car, while virtual obstacles can be safely thrown its way.

“The [Vehicle-in-Virtual-Environment (VVE)] method can work with any AV simulator and virtual environment rendering software as long as these can be run in real time and can generate the raw sensor data required by the actual AV computing system,” they write in a study, published in Sensors.