January 23, 2020

During Tuesday’s Commission Meeting, Macon-Bibb Commissioners approved to hire a company to design an upgrade for the Findley Ryther Dam at Lake Tobosofkee.

The county will pay nearly $148,000 to design an upgrade for the dam’s gate. There’s an issue with the gate’s gear systems and lifting capacity. Upgrades would include replacing the hoists, support pads, and electrical system.

Commissioners also approved more than $82,000 to improve county roads. The money will go to RoadBotics Incorporated, to perform pavement inspections on more than one thousand miles of county roads. County leaders say the inspections are needed and mandatory by law.

Why Creating An AV Business Is 10,000 Times Harder Than Building Self-Driving Tech

January 16, 2020

A first step to optimizing fleets of autonomous vehicles is to think of shared transit as the primary use case and business case for AV fleets. Traffic gurus at MIT developed an algorithm and found that 2,000 10-person vehicles could handle 95% of New York’s 14,000 cabs.

Adopting a shared model for most or all AVs should drive vehicle design (larger, multipassenger vehicles) and feature offers like Wi-Fi and entertainment to make slightly longer journeys more attractive than driving due to the opportunity to get things done during the trip.

Even without algorithmic optimization, mobility services could be more efficient incentivizing and rewarding the smart routing of vehicles (forcing them to take specific routes) and altered travel times to get people to book rides at off-peak times, according to Carnegie Mellon engineering professor Sean Qian. He studied today’s ride-hailing data, but there is no reason these kinds of rules could not be baked into AV booking apps, too.

6 experts predict the most disruptive tech of 2020

January 15, 2020

“Do we really need to have flying taxis? … It would be great if we could do that to help the people in Puerto Rico who are still suffering from the effects of the hurricane and now have had two earthquakes in the past two days … but to have more rich people getting from place to place because they don’t want to be bothered by a car anymore, that bothers me.”

— Karen Lightman, executive director, Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University

The smart cities challenge: How tech will update antiquated infrastructures

January 10, 2020

A CES 2020 panel discussed how blending new tech into established, sometimes crumbling infrastructures, offers renewable solutions…

Whether revenue or renovation, smart cities start on the streets, combining safety with efficiency, and through connectivity via traffic signals and intersections, and, of course, the automated automobile.

Murtha, and Karen Lightman (executive director Metro 21- Smart Cities Institute Carnegie Mellon University) want to make it perfectly clear. “It’s been driving me nuts,” says Lightman of CES chit chat. The AI technology associated with “self-driving” cars is automated, not “autonomous.” Murtha explains autonomous means being able to fully function independently. Automated, on the other hand, refers to something that uses a machine to do the work of a human, hence, it should be referenced as–at least for the next 30-ish years, added Karayannis–an automated and not an autonomous vehicle.

3 crashes, 3 deaths raise questions about Tesla’s Autopilot

January 3, 2020

Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said it’s likely that the Tesla in Sunday’s California crash was operating on Autopilot, which has become confused in the past by lane lines. He speculated that the lane line was more visible for the exit ramp, so the car took the ramp because it looked like a freeway lane. He also suggested that the driver might not have been paying close attention.

“No normal human being would not slow down in an exit lane,” he said.

In April, Musk said he expected to start converting the company’s electric cars to fully self-driving vehicles in 2020 to create a network of robotic taxis to compete against Uber and other ride-hailing services.

At the time, experts said the technology isn’t ready and that Tesla’s camera and radar sensors weren’t good enough for a self-driving system. Rajkumar and others say additional crashes have proved that to be true.

2020: When AVs Attack, Who’s at Fault?

January 2, 2020

Most scientists agree that the zero-collisions goal is impossible even for AVs, which neither drink and drive nor text at the wheel.

“Of course we’d prefer to have zero collisions, but in an unpredictable, real world that is unlikely,” Phil Koopman, CTO of Edge Case Research and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told EE Times. “What is important is that we avoid preventable mishaps. Setting an expectation of ‘dramatically better than human drivers’ is reasonable. A goal of perfection is asking too much.”

Even so, the notion of assigning blame for an accident makes everyone uncomfortable.

Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership begins survey phase of Downtown Mobility Plan with $1M grant

December 31, 2019

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) announced earlier this month a $1 million grant award from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation to help develop the Downtown Pittsburgh Mobility Plan, which will seek to identify and prioritize opportunities to improve the city’s transportation infrastructure for residents and tourists…

The mission of the Hillman Foundation is to inspire, invest in, and cultivate great ideas and initiatives for the betterment of Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania. The foundation’s namesake, Henry Hillman, believed in “intelligent transportation,” the application of advanced information systems technology to improve regional traffic flow and transportation mobility, which he used as an opportunity in 2009 to fund the Traffic21 initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. The Mobility Plan echoes that need for intelligent transportation, creating a pipeline of innovation and making Pittsburgh a leading center for research, development, and smart city technology deployment, officials from the Hillman Foundation said in a statement.

Year in Review: Local autonomous vehicle industry grows

December 31, 2019

The past year proved to be full of change for Pittsburgh’s autonomous vehicle sector — huge investments, automaker partnerships and a long list of facility growth and movement.

The tone was set for 2019 in March when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order outlining the city’s objectives and expectations for safe AV testing on its public roads…

Overall, Pittsburgh remains one of just two autonomous vehicle hubs (alongside Silicon Valley) in the United States, according to Raj Rajkumar, CMU professor and co-director of the General Motors CMU Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab.

He said he anticipates Pittsburgh will continue to become a strong player in the industry in the coming year.

“There is a lot of money and high-tech employees in California, but in terms of the core leadership and the major company investments happening in Pittsburgh, I think we compare well against what is going on in California,” Rajkumar said.

How Carnegie Mellon helped transform Pittsburgh into a smart city playground

December 24, 2019

The trash cans are part of a larger effort to transform the former Rust Belt manufacturing center into a tech and entrepreneurship hub that acts as “a model of what the new economy and environmental standards should look like,” says Santiago Garces, director of Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation and Performance. The city has undergone a number of smart transformations over the past decade, often in partnership with the world-class engineering and technology departments of Carnegie Mellon University. The university’s 10-year-old Metro21: Smart Cities Institute uses the city as a living laboratory for pilot projects, many of which the city adopts to full scale (see sidebar). “We show the realm of the possible,” says executive director Karen Lightman. When late local billionaire philanthropist Henry Hillman asked Metro21 to tackle the inefficiencies of timed traffic lights, for example, the institute developed interactive smart lights that react to traffic volume in real time.

Strip District merchants aren’t happy with suggestions to improve parking, traffic safety

December 20, 2019

Suggestions for resolving the problems include dynamic pricing — a system where meter rates increase during periods of peak demand — to increase turnaround times for metered spaces and encourage visitors to park in areas farther from the main shopping districts on Penn Avenue and Smallman Street.

Jimmy Sunseri, an owner of Jimmy and Nino’s specialty foods on Penn Avenue, said his business is down by about 25% because of the parking situation. He said an increase in parking rates through dynamic pricing would scare off more business…

Carnegie Mellon University tested a dynamic pricing system in 400 spaces around its Oakland campus several years ago and found that it triggered greater availability while generating more revenue. Pittsburgh City Council in 2014 authorized the Parking Authority to establish dynamic pricing in Downtown and a dozen other neighborhoods — including the Strip — but the system has yet to be launched.

Many Facial-Recognition Systems Are Biased, Says U.S. Study

December 20, 2019

The majority of commercial facial-recognition systems exhibit bias, according to a study from a federal agency released on Thursday, underscoring questions about a technology increasingly used by police departments and federal agencies to identify suspected criminals.

The systems falsely identified African-American and Asian faces 10 times to 100 times more than Caucasian faces, the National Institute of Standards and Technology reported on Thursday. Among a database of photos used by law enforcement agencies in the United States, the highest error rates came in identifying Native Americans, the study found…

But ensuring that these systems are fair is only part of the task, said Maria De-Arteaga, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in algorithmic systems. As facial recognition becomes more powerful, she said, companies and governments must be careful about when, where, and how they are deployed.

“We have to think about whether we really want these technologies in our society,” she said.

Self-driving cars: Hype-filled decade ends on sobering note

December 20, 2019

There are other challenges. The gains in AI that propelled self-driving vehicles have come with drawbacks. The systems are black boxes, making it hard to know why the car drives as it does. And when a self-driving vehicles makes an ill-advised decision, it’s extremely difficult to debug the vehicles.
“We’re between a rock and hard place. Machine learning is right now not explainable or certifiable,” said Raj Rajkumar, a Carnegie Mellon University professor, who like Johnson-Roberson, competed in the government-sponsored races that helped spawn the self-driving industry.
Researchers are trying to build tools to help AI explain itself, as well as build simulation technology, so the cars can be certified. There are also unanswered ethical questions over whether a car should, say, protect its passengers’ lives over those of pedestrians.

RoadBotics develops new services

December 20, 2019

RoadBotics Inc., which recently completed work on its largest contract to date, also began development of a new service it aims to amp up in 2020.

The contract in Detroit, which had RoadBotics assessing 2,600 miles of road, proved a “huge marker of success,” RoadBotics CEO Ben Schmidt said. As part of the contract, he said RoadBotics also used a new tool which can detect if a road had ever had crack sealing done before and identify the best time, or “goldilocks zone” for a government to seal a crack in a road most effectively.

The tool marks an effort by the company to shift its current road assessment rating system to a more detailed map that identifies specific distresses on roads. For example, rather than telling a government simply which roads need repairs or attention most urgently, RoadBotics will be able to tell a government which roads have potholes and which roads need crack sealing.

Want a Tax Credit for Buying an Electric Vehicle? Move Fast

December 19, 2019

For many Americans, New Year’s Day means a new set of resolutions, a slight headache, and a refreshing tabula rasa. At Tesla, the electric vehicle maker, January 1, 2020 will mark something else: the official end of its vehicles’ eligibility for federal tax credits. For the first time since 2009, new Tesla buyers won’t receive a little extra incentive from the American government to buy the company’s electric cars…

What’s more, losing access to the federal tax credit may also imperil automakers’ ability to meet state “zero emissions vehicle” targets. That program requires anyone selling cars in California and 14 other states to sell a specified number of electric vehicles, or to purchase “ZEV credits” from another manufacturer, like Tesla, that has hit its electric target. The state program “is a big driver of electric vehicle sales,” says Jeremy Michalek, a professor of engineering who studies EV policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Without the credit boost, hitting electric vehicle targets might get harder.

Self-driving car firms rooted in U.S. government competition

December 12, 2019

Bryan Salesky had little way of knowing in 2007 that his teammates and rivals in a U.S. Defense Department-sponsored competition were laying the foundations for future self-driving businesses now valued at billions of dollars.

Twelve years later, even some of his former Carnegie Mellon University teammates have become business competitors of Salesky, who with CMU alumnus and faculty adviser Peter Rander founded Argo AI and went on to attract substantial investments from Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE).

At the 2007 self-driving competition staged by DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in remote Victorville, California, Salesky’s CMU team and one from rival Stanford University included the future founders of at least four self-driving startups.

Gridwise partners with CMU to find uses for its data

December 9, 2019

Pittsburgh-based Gridwise announced a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Mobility Data Analytics Center in an effort to put the rideshare data it collects to good use.

Gridwise, which provides information for rideshare drivers to maximize their time and income, can also use the macro-level trends they see for other applications.

Gridwise CEO Ryan Green said the collaboration will focus on on-demand mobility for people, goods and services in Pittsburgh and set the groundwork for city level improvements. That could mean things like using rideshare data to determine the infrastructure in most critical need of improvement, how to better manage the city’s curbs, how to address public transit availability in underserved areas and how to mitigate traffic congestion.

Tesla Has Found a Use for Lasers—Cleaning Glass

December 4, 2019

A newly published patent application, for which Tesla filed in May, describes the “pulsed laser cleaning of debris” that tends to gather on car windshields and solar panels, both of which Tesla has an interest in keeping Mary Poppins–level spotless. Letting dirt and bird droppings accumulate on a Solar Glass Roof is likely to hobble its energy output. And along with blocking a human driver’s line of sight, a dirty windshield is a problem for the Autopilot cameras that pick out lane lines, and on which Tesla is relying to someday enable “full self-driving.”…

Now, the act of filing for a patent doesn’t indicate Tesla is serious about this idea, or anywhere near putting it into production cars. (Tesla spokespeople did not reply to questions about its intentions.) But the concept here is sound. Carnegie Mellon has produced an award-winning robot that uses lasers to strip the paint off of fighter jets, saving the Air Force from using chemical paint removers.

Battery prices are crashing. That’s good news.

December 4, 2019

rices for battery packs — used for electric vehicles and energy storage systems — are down 87% over the last decade, according to a new report from BloombergNEF, and still falling. The battery packs will soon reach a price competitive with traditional internal combustion engine cars.

Battery storage is measured in kilowatt-hours. A large battery for an electric vehicle is around 100kWh. In 2010, the average cost for that would have been $110,000. Now it’s just over $15,000.

“The decline in battery prices keeps astounding even all the experts,” said Costa Samaras, who researches energy and climate change at Carnegie Mellon University. “Nobody thought it would drop this far this fast.”

It’s dropped due to improvements in manufacturing, battery chemistry and tighter supply chain control. The biggest beneficiaries, Samaras said, are electric vehicles.

“It’s really, really important for cars to be electrified to deal with climate change, and the cheap battery is at the center of that,” Samaras said.

TRAILBLAZERS These women in technology are breaking the mold, taking on roles once dominated by men.

November 25, 2019

While men may still hold the majority of jobs in the technology sector, more and more women are taking leading roles managing efforts to advance the use of technology at companies across western Pennsylvania.

These profiles introduce women who are at the forefront of technological advancements for area firms.

These women have founded companies, worked to make self-driving cars a reality and integrated technology into the operations of well-known consumer operations…

Courtney Ehrlichman started bike commuting in Pittsburgh in 1998. She spent much of her career working at the Traffic21 Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and her interest in technology grew right alongside her passion to change the way transportation works.

Ehrlichman co-founded RoadBotics, a startup that uses artificial intelligence to help local governments and organizations make data-driven decisions about their roads and infrastructure, in 2016.

She built up a team there, but she wanted to maintain her thought leadership and work on transportation issues on a more macro level, so she started her own firm The Ehrlichman Group.  The group advises startups, firms, industry and governments on the future of transportation and helps people push forward ideas for responsible tech in the space.

The world’s first robot car death was the result of human error — and it can happen again

November 25, 2019

On November 20th, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released the results of its investigation into the 2018 fatal Uber crash in Tempe, Arizona, which was widely believed to be the world’s first death by a self-driving car.

But rather than slap the cuffs on Uber’s robot car, investigators instead highlighted the many human errors that culminated in the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. And they sounded a warning: it could happen again…

When the board read aloud its findings on the probable cause of the crash in Tempe, the first person to be blamed was Rafaela Vasquez, the safety driver in the vehicle at the time of the crash. Vasquez was never called out by name, but her failures as a watchdog for the automated driving system were put on stark display by the NTSB…

Overly restrictive federal regulations at this stage of a rapidly changing technology will very likely cause significantly more harm than good, said Raj Rajkumar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “Just because Uber and their operator then behaved badly, everybody else should not be penalized,” he said.

Waynesburg University and CMU partner to battle rural food insecurity

November 22, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University, located in the heart of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recently started working with Waynesburg University on the foundation of a universal service accomplishment. Through the partnership, the two schools focus on conquering food insecurity in rural areas — more specifically, Greene County, Pennsylvania.

“It’s the notion of looking at a large university that’s world class in research [and] development, and then a world class liberal arts institution like Waynesburg,” President Douglas Lee said. “It’s having a real impact on the community through service and the programs we offer.”…

Rural transportation is more scarce than public transportation in urban communities. The Department of Energy awarded a grant to Waynesburg University and Carnegie Mellon University to help study the issue of rural transportation.

President Lee describes this conquest to end food insecurity as having “national consequences” and extending far past the limits of Greene County or Allegheny County, as these solutions could impact rural communities across the country.

Uber’s self-driving cars are back on Pittsburgh’s roads, but a fatal crash in Arizona still sticks with them

November 19, 2019

The city remained a center for autonomous vehicle technology development — and that remained a source of pride for Pittsburgh residents.

“It’s a huge banner of success for the community that this very advanced, cutting edge, ‘the world is watching,’ is happening right here in our backyard,” said RoadBotics President Benjamin Schmidt.

East Liberty-based RoadBotics uses technology to help governments better understand and improve infrastructure. Right now, cities are looking at things like fixing potholes and repainting lane markers to make it safer for drivers and autonomous vehicles.

“It’s all these sorts of things that people need to navigate effectively, but then it just makes it harder for machines and algorithms to navigate the same space,” Mr. Schmidt said. “We’re looking at the future right now.”

The road ahead for self-driving cars

November 19, 2019

The first truly autonomous cars appeared in the 1980s, with Carnegie Mellon University’s Navlab and ALV (autonomous land vehicles) projects funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US) started in 1984; and Mercedes-Benz, the German Bundeswehr and the University of Munich in the context of the EUREKA Prometheus Project in 1987.

By 1987, ALVs had demonstrated self-driving speeds of 31 kilometers, with obstacle avoidance added a year later and off-road driving in day and nighttime conditions.

A major milestone was achieved in 1995, with CMU’s NavLab 5 completing the first autonomous coat-to-coast drive of the US. Of the 2,849 miles between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and San Diego, California, 2,797 miles (98.2%) were autonomous, complete with an average speed of 53.8 miles per hour (102.3 km/h).

Sunshine will cover your daily commute

November 19, 2019

Startups, and even major automakers, are turning their cars into mobile solar arrays. Hyundai’s 2019 Sonata (the solar version) uses an expansive roof-top solar panel to extend its electric range by 800 miles extra per year, assuming at least six hours of daily sunshine…

But physicists (and economists) argue that slapping solar panels on your car is not the most efficient way to procure electrons. Nor will it get you very far. For one thing, turning a vehicle’s body panels into power plants is pricey compared to buying solar power from the grid, even amortized over the life of the car, according to Jeremy Michalek, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and director of its Vehicle Electrification Group. Nor are cars’ photovoltaic cells particularly efficient or well-positioned to capture sunlight. Even a best-case scenario would see less than 25% of solar energy converted into electricity.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Announces $8 Million Grant At Special Traffic21 Conference At Carnegie Mellon

November 14, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University welcomed the transportation secretary as it celebrated a landmark day for one of its groundbreaking programs.

Carnegie Mellon University celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Traffic21 program on Thursday.

The program’s goal is to design, test, and develop technology to address traffic problems in the Pittsburgh area.

CMU’s groundbreaking program has already made a major impact on the community.

“The work of Traffic21 and its university transportation center has resulted in three spinoff companies that have created hundreds of technology jobs in Pittsburgh, attracted tens of millions of dollars in private investment,” noted CMU president Farnam Jahanian at a special two-day conference that began Thursday.