Automakers and universities team up to fix AV industry’s talent gap

May 7, 2021

When the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) at Ohio State University began over 30 years ago, it focused on traditional subjects like the transmissions, noise and vibrations from internal combustion engines, with some attention paid to what was then a growing trend of automotive electronics.

Now, with the advent of autonomous vehicles (AVs), its focus has changed.

“What used to be a predominantly mechanical engineering discipline with some electronics sprinkled in has become an industry that depends on computing power, computer science, electrical and electronic systems and electrochemical energy storage,” Giorgio Rizzoni, CAR’s director and an OSU mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, said…

Some community colleges and other groups are also getting in on the act.

Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, launched the first-ever autonomous driving certificate program for truck drivers in 2019, in partnership with self-driving truck company TuSimple.

Will Elon Musk’s Starlink Fix Internet Issues in Western Pa.?

May 3, 2021

Starlink, owned by the Tesla CEO, has put more than 1,400 satellites into orbit, building a network — or constellation, as the company calls it — to provide Internet service to people across the country. Launches from Florida began in 2019 through a partnership between SpaceX and NASA. So far, there have been 10 this year. Eight of those carried Starlink satellites…

The satellites will work with a ground network called gateways, which will be placed up to 700 miles apart and utilize fiber optic cable, according to Karen Lightman, executive director of Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Internet service will then be connected via dishes placed on homes and buildings.

“They’re considered a carrier of last resort because there’s a gap” in Internet service, Lightman said. “Nobody’s filling it because the Comcasts and the DQEs and the AT&Ts are like, ‘We’re not going to lay fiber. There’s nobody living there for 200 miles.’ But you can do it with satellite.”

First Fully Electric ‘Smart’ Tractor Makes Debut

May 3, 2021

Monarch Tractor, the world’s first fully electric, driver-optional, smart tractor manufacturer, announced the debut of its flagship tractor recently at Wente Vineyards of Livermore, CA, the oldest continuously operated family winery in the U.S. The announcement was made, appropriately enough, on Earth Day…

Another of the company’s co-founders, Chief Technology Officer Dr. Zachary Omohundro, calls it “no-compromise technology,” because growers don’t need to give up anything found on conventional tractors. “It can do everything a regular tractor can do, plus it can operate automatically, plus data collection, plus it’s electric,” he said.

Omohundro, who has a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie-Mellon University, said that not only is tractor “smart,” it improves the usefulness of other equipment used on the farm. For example, sensors on board can tell the grower how much torque is going to the mower. “A Bush Hog is not ‘smart,’” he said, “but it is with a Monarch.”

Feeding the Needy with the Help of Machine Learning

May 3, 2021

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have set up a data sharing partnership between the Penn Hills School District and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. This was done in order to serve those students who used to rely on free breakfast and lunch at school. Along with all the data gathered, the researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University loaded the address information into the computer and identified the locations and the routes.

According to Stephen Smith, who developed the delivery algorithms and is currently serving as the research professor in the Robotics Institute, “The existing bus routes used to transport students weren’t ideal for meal distribution for a number of reasons. Stopping every few blocks isn’t very efficient, and we needed areas where shuttles could safely stop, park and hand out food to groups of people. Our goal was to identify stops and routes to reach as many people as possible.”

Joby touts a 10,000 flight cycle eVTOL battery. Can it deliver?

April 28, 2021

During an IPO Edge webinar last week, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt made a bold claim: that the company expects to get at least 10,000 flight cycles out of the lithium-ion batteries in its eVTOL air taxis, making the cost of replacing batteries “essentially insignificant” in the context of Joby’s overall operating economics…

Venkat Viswanathan, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who last year analyzed Joby’s maximum range estimate for Forbes, finds Joby’s flight cycle claim to be credible.

“Batteries today can go somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 cycles with full charge,” he said. “Basically that 10,000 flight cycles simply means somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 cycles on the battery pack, which is certainly doable with today’s battery technology.”

According to Viswanathan, “battery cycle life has been improving tremendously over the past few years,” so it’s reasonable to expect that cycle life estimates would have increased since Uber Elevate shared its cost calculations two years ago.

How infrastructure has historically promoted inequality

April 28, 2021

For example, poor roads can damage cars and leave drivers paying for the added expense of repairs. And proximity to health hazards like waste sites lead to higher health care expenses. While poor maintenance of infrastructure can cost Americans, the construction of new infrastructure has the potential to benefit them. Having public transportation lines nearby can significantly raise property values, for one. Rail transit and bridges can enable people from underserved groups to travel to better paying jobs or to obtain different services, said Daniel Armanios, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

In one 2020 study, Armanios and his co-researcher determined that communities in Pennsylvania with more people of color and single-parent families tended to have fewer bridges. The bridges that existed were more likely to be “restrictive” or low-clearance, which can obstruct the influx of business goods and transportation services.

Why Self-Driving Cars: From Horseless to Driverless

April 27, 2021

The idea of self-driving vehicles dates back much further than Google’s research or Tesla’s beta releases in the present day. In fact, the concept of an autonomous car dates back to Futurama, an exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. General Motors created the exhibit to display its vision of what the world would look like in a couple of decades, and this vision included an automated highway system that would guide self-driving cars.

While a world filled with robotic vehicles isn’t yet a reality, the automotive industry has much progressed into 21st century with the emerging applications of internet of things (IoT) and computerized cars. Many cars today already have autonomous features like assisted parking and braking systems.

Research into self-driving cars began in 1980s, when the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University developed NavLab in 1986. In 2009, Google started its self-driving car project led by Sebastian Thrun.

Are user fees a middle-class tax hike or a fairer way to pay for infrastructure in Pittsburgh region?

April 26, 2021

“We have a grasp of what this stuff costs, but we don’t have a grasp on long-term financing of it,” said Stan Caldwell, adjunct associate professor of transportation and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

As the Highway Trust Fund has eroded over time, project fixes have been kicked down the road, and user fees have become more disconnected from the people who pay them, transportation experts said.

Drivers who use the Pennsylvania Turnpike complain their tolls fund urban public transit projects in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and public transit advocates complain federal transit spending remains too low. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, created a task force last month to look at alternatives to the gasoline tax.

“The federal government is not addressing this, and so therefore the states have to keep doing it on their own and keep coming up with their own plans to fill in the gaps,” Mr. Caldwell said. “The system we have now, it can be argued, is a result of a lack of addressing this at the core.”

INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE FUTURE As cities adopt smart infrastructure, it’s becoming a growing opportunity for local tech firms.

April 21, 2021

It was in the early 2000s when Jim Misener, chair of the SAE C-V2X Technical Committee, first started to watch short-range communication come into form and the emerging ability for cars to “talk” to surrounding infrastructure. “Smart cities” had not yet become a common term.

Misener said the technology peaked SAE International’s interest, and the organization, which develops global standards, quickly set to work creating a set of standards to shape the way cities deploy smart infrastructure.

Since then, companies developing smart infrastructure have popped up across the nation and in Pittsburgh in what has become an emerging industry as cities look to upgrade and transform their aging infrastructures.

Now, this growing sector may get an additional boost with President Joe Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

Karen Lightman, executive director of Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, praised the Biden administration’s recently proposed American Jobs Act for its dedication to expanding broadband coverage.

Nvidia Launches 1,000 TOPS Automated Driving Chip, Volvo To Launch Orin-Powered System In 2022

April 20, 2021

Now, the forthcoming designs that feature as many as four Orin SoCs like the Nio ET7, will eventually be replaced by Atlan which Huang announced in his keynote. Atlan is a single chip that Nvidia claims will deliver 1,000 trillion operations per second (TOPS). For reference, the Xavier can hit 30 TOPS and the highest end version of the Orin family achieves 254 TOPS. The Carnegie Mellon University Chevrolet Tahoe that won the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2007 was powered by 10 blade servers with Intel INTC -1.6% Core Duo processors that had combined capabilities of about 1.8 billion operations per second. Atlan will be about 50,000 times faster.

While most ADS developers are using some form of Nvidia hardware, not all are utilizing these SoCs. Some have created their own custom compute platforms using off-the-shelf GPUs and various other chips including Intel X86 CPUs.

BMW’s Virtual Factory Uses AI to Hone the Assembly Line

April 19, 2021

Encouraged by recent progress in AI, some startups are focused on having robots learn in simulation how to perform fiendishly difficult tasks like grasping irregular objects, technology that could eventually help automate much ecommerce and logistics work. This often uses an AI approach called reinforcement learning, which involves an algorithm experimenting and learning, from positive feedback, how to achieve a specific goal.

“This is definitely the way to go,” says Ding Zhao, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who focuses on AI and digital simulations. Zhao says simulations are crucial to using AI for industrial applications, partly because it is impossible to run machines through millions of cycles to gather training data. In addition, he says, it’s important for machine-learning models to learn by experimenting with unsafe situations, such as two robots colliding, which cannot be done with real hardware. “Machine learning is data-hungry, and collecting it in the real world is expensive and risky,” he says.

As rainstorms grow more severe and frequent, communities fail to prepare for risks

April 16, 2021

“The take-home message is that infrastructure in most parts of the country is no longer performing at the level that it’s supposed to because of the big changes that we’ve seen in extreme rainfall,” said Daniel Wright, a hydrologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and co-author of the study.

He points to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which found heavy downpours increased 71 percent in the Northeast, 37 percent in the Upper Midwest, and 27 percent in the Southeast from 1958 to 2012. It may cost more initially to build for bigger storms, but it’s less expensive than making fixes later, said Constantine Samaras, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

“The place that we want to get to is designing for the future rather than designing for the past,” he added.

Why Shares of These Electric-Vehicle Start-Ups Got Crushed in March

April 16, 2021

Here’s how these three companies’ stocks fared in March, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Decarbonization Plus Acquisition (NASDAQ: DCRB), a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that is in the process of merging with electric-truck start-up Hyzon Motors, fell 10.9% in March.

Hyliion Holdings (NYSE: HYLN), a maker of electric and hybrid powertrains for heavy trucks that went public via a SPAC deal in 2020, fell 29.4% in March.

Property Solutions Acquisition (NASDAQ: PSAC), a SPAC that is in the process of merging with luxury EV start-up Faraday Future, fell 14.4% in March…

Hyliion went public after completing a merger with a SPAC last year. The Texas company, led by Thomas Healy, an engineer trained at Carnegie Mellon University, designs hybrid and fully electric powertrains for heavy trucks that are then built and distributed by established truck-industry partners, including Tier 1 auto supplier Dana (NYSE: DAN).

Technology plays key role in decarbonizing freight rail: Wabtec exec

April 13, 2021

GEBHARDT: “What we’ve seen is that the cost continues to come down and the supply chains to grow in order meet the needs overall…

“How do we make sure that we can get hydrogen where we need it? How do we make sure it’s green hydrogen? How do we go ahead and charge these battery-electric locomotives, looking at that whole ecosystem? What’s exciting to me is that for rail, there’s a couple of thousand fueling stations in the U.S. … They would be easier to transition to electrification and to hydrogen than, say, the tens of thousands of gasoline fueling stations for automobiles and for trucks today.

“We think it’s a much more practical challenge, and that’s why we’re excited about Freight 2030. Carnegie Mellon has a lot of logistics capability, a lot of AI capability on how to do the planning for all of that.

Will apps like PayPal and Venmo make financial inequality worse?

April 13, 2021

Given the cleanliness concerns spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, mobile payments have generally been used for contactless transactions and thus are better for public health, said Beibei Li, associate professor of IT and management at Carnegie Mellon University. For underbanked customers, in particular, mobile payment apps allow consumers to access their money without needing to go to an ATM, which can be inconvenient for people in low-income communities with fewer ATM locations nearby, Li said…

Li noted that, according to her research examining payment apps and other mobile banking apps, consumers were able to better manage their money, including incurring fewer overdraft and late credit card payment fees.

“It seems like these mobile applications are able to facilitate better for people’s financial management in general. We definitely see that there is a benefit for disadvantaged [groups],” Li said.

Testing how navigable SEPTA is, with glasses that see what riders see

April 12, 2021

Cameron Adamez was outfitted with Tobii Pro eye-tracker glasses on a recent Friday afternoon and dispatched to the caverns beneath City Hall Station on a mission from SEPTA to find out just how difficult it is to get around its rail transit system.

Adamez was a volunteer test subject in an experiment designed and conducted by Megan Ryerson, the UPS chair of transportation at the University of Pennsylvania, to generate data for SEPTA planners overhauling the system’s way-finding: the maps, signs, and branding that clue riders where to go for what line.

“I think of it as epidemiology for navigation,” said Ryerson, an associate professor of both city and regional planning and electrical and systems engineering at Penn.

“We wanted to determine whether people are understanding the way-finding signage, how they are navigating the space from a human perspective,” she said.

MIT Analysis Predicts Lithium-Ion Battery Costs Will Drop

April 9, 2021

The cost of lithium-ion battery technology has fallen dramatically over the last three decades, claims a recent analysis conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). And, they predict that further steep declines could be possible in the near future.
According to Jessika Trancik, an associate professor at MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society who conducted the analysis, the cost of these batteries has dropped by 97 percent since they were first commercially introduced in 1991…

“Battery costs determine price parity of electric vehicles with internal combustion engine vehicles,” adds Venkat Viswanathan, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, who was not associated with the MIT analysis. “Thus, projecting battery cost declines is probably one of the most critical challenges in ensuring an accurate understanding of adoption of electric vehicles.”

The professor who built a self-driving car decades ago

April 9, 2021

Decades before the race to build a self-driving vehicle became a multibillion-dollar contest between tech giants such as Tesla Inc and Google, a South Korean professor built an autonomous vehicle and test-drove it across the country — only for his research to be consigned to the scrapheap.

Han Min-hong, now 79, successfully tested his self-driving car on the roads of Seoul in 1993 — a decade before Tesla was even founded…

Raj Rajkumar, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, who reviewed the 1990s footage for Agence France-Presse, said that it “appears to be on par with some of the best work on autonomous vehicles during that period.”

“The professor and a colleague are not even in the driver’s seat — very bold, confident, but very risky thing to do,” he added. “It is unfortunate that funding for that project was cut. In hindsight, that was certainly not a wise decision.”

Pandemic accelerating shift toward electric vehicles

April 9, 2021

Part of Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion proposal, which he released Wednesday in Pittsburgh, calls for spending $174 billion to bolster the use of electric vehicles through investments in a number of areas…

The president’s proposals came directly on the heels of a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reviewing fuel efficiency that estimated a major changeover to electric vehicles by 2035. At the same time, the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group called for more electric vehicles for environmental benefits.

The National Academies study concluded that zero-emission vehicles such as electric vehicles “could bring the most fundamental transformation in the 100-plus-year history of the automobile,” said Gary Marchant, Regents Professor of Law and director of the Center for Law, Science, and Innovation at Arizona State University. He chaired the 16-member committee — which included Kate Lightfoot, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University — that wrote the 457-page report.

With all eyes on Biden in Pittsburgh, 13 local experts diagnose the region’s biggest infrastructure needs

April 6, 2021

President Joe Biden traveled to Pittsburgh Wednesday to make his case for a sweeping infrastructure investment across the country. Even before he arrived, jockeying for how to spend the money in Pittsburgh was underway. Several local representatives, including state Reps. Austin Davis and Summer Lee, wrote a letter promoting an extension of the Martin Luther King East Busway and the last leg of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.

At one of Biden’s campaign stops in Pittsburgh, Biden looked directly at Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and a handful of other politicians and told them he would be back because Pittsburgh was so important to the country. “Less than 100 days and here he is making this major major speech in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s a big supporter of our building trades and infrastructure and putting people to work.”…

PublicSource talked to 13 local experts, academics, politicians and nonprofit leaders to ask: What are the most pressing infrastructure needs for the Pittsburgh region?

Why Joe Biden is pitching his infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh, where he launched and ended his campaign

April 6, 2021

When Joe Biden began his presidential campaign, he chose a Pittsburgh union hall for his first rally. He returned to the city for his first event after accepting the Democratic nomination last summer. And on the night before Election Day, he closed his campaign at the Steelers’ home stadium, Heinz Field.

Now, as he launches his second major initiative as president — a potentially $3 trillion infrastructure plan that could be his most ambitious legislation — Biden is returning Wednesday to the Southwestern Pennsylvania city long associated with labor unions and heavy industry…

“We’re a template for what you can do to do it right,” said Karen Lightman, executive director of Metro21, which connects research and development at Carnegie Mellon University with real-world uses in the Pittsburgh region. But despite all the high-tech advancement, she said, “we also have incredible, decaying infrastructure.”

Young Pittsburgh tech firm raises $20M, almost all from out-of-town investors

March 31, 2021

A Pittsburgh-based developer of commercial trucking analytics and driver management solutions has raised $20 million…

Idelic makes trucking safer and more efficient by preventing accidents, reducing driver turnover, lowering insurance costs and saving lives. Its flagship product, Safety Suite, uses machine learning to turn fleet data into predictive insights that enable fleets to efficiently manage their entire safety operation and identify at-risk drivers before a crash occurs.

A spinout from Pitt Ohio Express whose safety department initially developed the software, Idelic was founded by a trio of Carnegie Mellon University graduates — Hayden Cardiff, Nick Bartel and Andrew Russell. Cardiff and Bartel serve as co-CEOs. Pitt Ohio decided in 2015 to create a separate company to commercialize the product and put it on a mobile platform.

Fighting Has Broken Out Over How Long Lithium Metal Can Sit on the Shelf

March 31, 2021

The issue is calendar life — how many years a battery can be useful, regardless of whether the vehicle in which it’s installed is driven or not. The paper, written by nine authors at Stanford University led by Yi Cui, a materials scientist, found that in extreme testing, lithium-metal batteries lose up to 25% of their lifetime capacity just sitting around.

Major automakers including General Motors and Volkswagen are relying on pure lithium-metal batteries to make next-generation electric vehicles ultra-affordable and allow them to crack the mass market. But the paper waves a gigantic red flag, suggesting that researchers need to heed this potential flaw in order to ensure that lithium-metal batteries work for a full guaranteed lifetime. “If you lose 25%, it’s game over,” said Venkat Viswanathan, a professor at Carnegie Mellon. “At 20%, you already lose the useful life of the battery.”

Self-driving cars that recognize free space can better detect objects

March 30, 2021

It’s important that self-driving cars quickly detect other cars or pedestrians sharing the road. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have shown that they can significantly improve detection accuracy by helping the vehicle also recognize what it doesn’t see.

Empty space, that is.

The very fact that objects in your sight may obscure your view of things that lie further ahead is blindingly obvious to people. But Peiyun Hu, a Ph.D. student in CMU’s Robotics Institute, said that’s not how self-driving cars typically reason about objects around them.

Rather, they use 3-D data from lidar to represent objects as a point cloud and then try to match those point clouds to a library of 3-D representations of objects. The problem, Hu said, is that the 3-D data from the vehicle’s lidar isn’t really 3-D—the sensor can’t see the occluded parts of an object, and current algorithms don’t reason about such occlusions.

Is A Mileage-Based User Fee A Likely Replacement For The State’s Gasoline Tax?

March 29, 2021

Nobody likes the state’s 59-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax, one of the highest in the nation, and with more electric and fuel-efficient cars, the gas tax is not bringing in the revenue to repair our roads.

That’s why we get proposals to toll bridges, and nobody likes that either. Is there an alternative?

“It’s actually pretty simple to think about which is instead of paying by the gallon, you pay by the mile you drive,” says Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott Matthews.

It’s called a mileage-based user fee — get rid of the gasoline tax altogether and replace it with a fee based on how many miles you drive. The more you drive, the more you pay.

A Carnegie Mellon University study of this fee found on average that most Pennsylvanians drive around 10,000 miles each year and pay $200 in gas taxes.