DARPA is experimenting with giving driverless combat vehicles off-road autonomy

September 30, 2022

DARPA’s Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency (RACER) program has successfully completed one experiment and is now moving on to even more difficult off-road landscapes at Camp Roberts, California, for trials set for September 15-27, according to a press release by the organization published last week.

The program has stated that its aim is “to give driverless combat vehicles off-road autonomy while traveling at speeds that keep pace with those driven by people in realistic situations.”

Autonomous software stacks for the DARPA-provided robot systems have been developed by Carnegie Mellon University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of Washington. Each of these models were tested in “Experiment 1” earlier this year at Fort Irwin, California, and are now involved in the current new trials.

Experiment 1 ran through March-April 2022 on six courses of combat-relevant terrain where each of the teams undertook more than 40 autonomous runs of about 2 miles each, reaching speeds just under 20 miles per hour.

To break an impasse in connected vehicle tech, transportation leaders call for a federal policy framework

September 27, 2022

Because experts worry there will not be enough spectrum for vehicle-to-everything communications in the long term, the FCC needs to do a complete analysis of the transportation industry’s spectrum requirements, said Jon Peha, an engineering professor and expert on information networks at Carnegie Mellon University who previously served as the FCC’s chief technologist.

The agency initially dedicated 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 gigahertz band for intelligent transportation systems, but the new policy slashed that figure to 30 MHz, effectively making DSRC obsolete, Peha said. Now the only technology that anyone can use in the band is cellular vehicle-to-everything, or C-V2X, “which means any infrastructure that had already been deployed will no longer be useful,” he said. “You have to change your plans to adopt the current technology.”

DARPA Kicks off 2nd Field Experiment for Off-Road Autonomous Vehicles

September 26, 2022

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has mapped out a second off-road landscape course for combat ground vehicle teams under its Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency program.

The latest field experiment is scheduled to be held at Camp Roberts in California, and to run from Sept. 15 to 27, DARPA said Friday.

DARPA has tapped Carnegie Mellon University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Washington, each of which has developed autonomous software stacks for the robot systems during the primary trial, to take part in the second field experiment.

The first field experiment ran from March to April and constituted six courses of combat-relevant terrain, where RACER fleet vehicles underwent over 40 autonomous runs of two miles each and reached speeds just under 20 miles per hour.

For the second field experiment, RACER fleet vehicles will run on steeper hills and slippery surfaces to test the robot system’s capacity to keep control while navigating long-range courses with obstacles.

Why Smart Cities are About More Than Just Tech

September 16, 2022

From optimizing school bus routes using machine learning to testing new ways to gather data on air quality, Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has worked on a wide range of projects over the years. The organization’s aim is to look for ways that cutting-edge technology can benefit cities and their residents. Karen Lightman joined Metro21 in 2017 and is now executive director. The institute, established in 2015, serves as an intermediary between local government and nonprofit partners who have identified problems they want to solve and faculty researchers seeking to test their work in real-world settings.

Route Fifty talked with Lightman about the kinds of problems smart cities technology can address and how important equity is in those projects. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Oakland’s First Sidewalk Poetry Contest Celebrates Its History and Future

September 9, 2022

The sidewalks of Oakland (Pittsburgh) have undergone a revamping, with lines of poetry scattered across the neighborhood reflecting on the beloved history and heart of Oakland. Oakland Business Improvement District held its first sidewalk poetry contest to celebrate April as National Poetry Month. This project was inspired by artist Marcus Young with Public Art Saint Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Lisa Kay Schweyer, a contest winner and a program manager for the transportation research institute Traffic21 at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote her poem about some of the overlooked but important Oakland features. Schweyer said she hopes the group will continue this project as a testament to the “transient nature of Oakland”

“Eventually the paint will disintegrate, so it’s a transient way to highlight how people feel about the community and it gives people who are walking something to look at while they’re looking down other than their phones,” Schweyer said.

What RoadBotics’ acquisition by Michelin means for the homegrown AI company

September 7, 2022

Since 2016, Pittsburgh-based RoadBotics’ artificial intelligence technology has mapped the condition of infrastructure for 250 governments across the world. Still, the Carnegie Mellon University spinout wants to go bigger.

Thanks to its recent acquisition by Michelin, the French tire manufacturing giant, the company can look forward to reaching more customers, faster.

“The exciting part for RoadBotics is that moving into this much larger organization should really transform the way that we can get what we do in front of more people,” cofounder Benjamin Schmidt, Ph.D., told Technical.ly. Schmidt was previously RoadBotics’ CEO, but his title was changed to global CTO at the time of the acquisition…

What RoadBotics gets out of the deal (for which financial details were not disclosed) is the international company’s resources and guidance. With Michelin’s financial support, Schmidt said, the Pittsburgh company will be able to reach more people and provide services in a more timely manner.

The space race for our cellphones

September 2, 2022

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert late last week announced plans to start delivering service through SpaceX’s Starlink by the end of next year in the United States…

Sievert described the vision as putting cell towers in the sky, but “a lot harder.”
The partnership would effectively enable cellphones to do what satellite phones can do, Jon Peha, former FCC chief technologist and professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, tells Axios.
“They’re no longer separate devices. It’s one device that does both,” he said.

State of play: AST SpaceMobile and Lynk are other major competitors working to make cell coverage direct from space a reality…

The ultimate goal is to offer high-speed mobile internet access via satellite.

“No one company or even a number of these companies [will] be able to meet all the needs,” Peha said.

Pittsburgh tests program to provide free transportation for lower-income residents

August 23, 2022

Pittsburgh is launching a pilot program that will provide 50 city residents with free access to public transportation and other alternate means of transportation for one year. Officials said the initiative would help alleviate the financial burden of transportation…

Participants in the “Guaranteed Basic Mobility” program will be able to ride the bus, light rail, POGOH bikes, Spin Scooters or order a Zipcar free of charge. Eligible participants will be residents who receive some form of government assistance and who lack regular access to a personal vehicle. They must also be actively seeking a job or pursuing more hours of work…

The new pilot will be supported by a $200,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Spin, the participating scooter company, has put up $50,000 toward the project.

The 50 residents who take part in the pilot will be recruited by the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, Carnegie Mellon University and the Manchester Citizens Corporation.

People are now testing Tesla’s ‘full self-driving’ on real kids

August 23, 2022

Cupani filmed the test of “full self-driving” in a parking lot. His son stood near the end of an aisle holding a smartphone to film the test…

Detecting smaller objects like young children quickly and accurately will generally be more difficult than sensing large objects and adults for a computer vision system like what Tesla vehicles rely on, according to Raj Rajkumar, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who researches autonomous vehicles.

The more pixels an object takes up in a camera image, the more information the system has to detect features and identify the object. The system will also be impacted by the data it is trained on, such as how many images of small children it’s exposed to.

“Computer vision with machine learning is not 100% foolproof,” Rajkumar said. “Just like diagnosis of a disease, there are always false positives and negatives.”

Traveling this summer? It’s never too soon to start planning your ground transportation.

August 17, 2022

Getting around on vacation is getting harder than ever. With another car rental shortage forecast for this summer, you might find yourself stranded at your hotel or vacation rental. But there are new ways to solve your ground transportation problems…

Travelers are starting to rethink ground transportation. Stan Caldwell, an associate professor of transportation and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, says new “mobility as service” platforms are offering travelers more options for getting around.

If you’re traveling to Pittsburgh, consider downloading the Transit app, which partnered with MovePGH to let users combine inexpensive, shared mobility options with the city’s mass transit. “These services include public transportation, bike and scooter share and ride-hail services like Lyft and Uber,” he says.

If you’re headed to Europe, you can download an app called Whim that allows you to access transportation options in places like Antwerp, Belgium; Helsinki; and Vienna.

As self-driving car testing drives forward in Pa., experts and lawmakers turn their eyes to safety regulations

August 17, 2022

And just last week, Pittsburgh-based self-driving car developer Argo AI announced the formation of an independent safety council designed to monitor the company’s practices.

Stakeholders can agree on one thing: Safety is important.And as the Pennsylvania Senate prepares to consider legislation that could make it possible to conduct self-driving testing without a person behind the wheel, the issue is more important than ever.

Certain details about Argo AI’s committee remain murky. But as the technology advances and may soon be on Pittsburgh streets, experts agree any move to improve self-driving safety is a good thing.

“It’s always good to see an autonomous vehicle company getting independent advice because independence is absolutely essential for safety,” said Philip Koopman, a professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who has been active in the space since before self-driving vehicles existed.

Former Volkswagen and Sony plant in Mount Pleasant will become training site for emergency response crews and state road workers

August 16, 2022

The test facility, known as Pennsylvania Safety, Transportation and
Research Track, will use 80 to 100 acres of land at the former Volkswagen
and Sony plant, state and local officials announced Thursday. The facility,
which could cost as much as $20 million, will be a free training site for
emergency response crews and state road workers, and lease time to
private companies developing self-driving vehicles and other
transportation products.

State Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian said officials have been
talking about such a facility for about four years…

Mr. Kopko said Michigan and Florida have similar facilities, but they aren’t
as wide ranging as the Westmoreland County facility will be. Academic institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University, which is a leader in self-
driving technology, also will be able to use PennSTART.

“None of (the other facilities) are as much a jack-of-all-trades facility as this will be,” Mr. Kopko said. “Anything we want to test, this facility gives us that opportunity.”

Paul Moller’s 50-year dream to build a flying car won’t die

August 16, 2022

Moller is hardly the first inventor bent on making flying cars a reality, but he’s likely the one person who’s been at it the longest…

Moller’s distaste for batteries in the new generation of flying cars makes him the outlier. A year ago, he stopped work on a hybrid model of the Skycar, opting for a version only with a rotary-powered engine.

“Even though the battery safety brings in some issues, the rest of the aspects in terms of the number critical points of failure and so on are a lot fewer,” says Shashank Sripad, a battery researcher at Carnegie Mellon University who recently co-authored an article on the promise of urban aircrafts. “I would say I’m very optimistic.” The top air-taxi contenders today, including the EHang 216, the A3 Vahana, Wisk’s Cora, and the Archer Maker, are all battery-powered.

Drones carrying parcels found to use much less energy per parcel than diesel trucks

August 12, 2022

A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University has found that drones carrying parcels use much less energy per parcel than diesel delivery trucks. In their paper published in the journal Patterns, the group described their tests of drones carrying packages and how they compared with trucks.

In this new effort, the researchers looked at the delivery of single small packages to a single destination—such as a customer’s home…

In so doing, they found that for single delivery of a package, drone delivery has a much smaller carbon footprint. More specifically, they found that a drone delivery accounted for 84% less greenhouse gas emissions than a diesel truck—it also used 94% less energy.

The researchers note that carbon savings depended very much on where in the country the electricity used to charge the drone batteries was produced.

Wolf, Carnegie Mellon president among Pennsylvanians at Biden’s signing of CHIPS and Science bill

August 12, 2022

rominent Pennsylvanians attended President Joe Biden’s signing of the CHIPS and Science Act, a new law that directs billions to spur domestic semiconductor manufacturing and could potentially unlock billions more for scientific research.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian were among a large audience Tuesday on the White House South Lawn as Mr. Biden signed the bipartisan bill into law, which will provide $52 billion for the industry and a 25% tax incentive for companies that invest in domestic chip manufacturing.

The act also authorizes about $200 billion to be appropriated over the next decade for various research programs, a portion of the legislation that garnered the backing of universities and tech councils.

Move over, autopilot: This AI can avoid other planes

August 9, 2022

With all this busyness in the skies, researchers at Carnegie Mellon are working on an artificial intelligence pilot system that can carry out tasks like predicting what another aircraft might do, or keep an eye out for nearby planes using cameras on an aircraft. The idea is that an AI like this could help fly drones, assist a human pilot, or even someday fly a plane on its own.

Right now, in a flight simulator, the AI is able to figure out what another aircraft is doing, or might do, and then figure out how to safely land the plane accordingly…

In this case, the AI is looking out for another plane, not a car, of course. “It basically looks at their behavior for 10 seconds,” says Jay Patrikar, a doctoral student in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “It tries to judge: ‘They are here. What are they potentially likely to do?’”

Autonomous Truck Developer Under Federal Investigation After Highway Crash Prompts Safety Issues

August 5, 2022

In early April, a tractor trailer fitted with autonomous driving technology veered off the road without warning, cutting across the I-10 highway in Tucson, Arizona and slamming into a cement barricade…

Now, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency within the DOT that regulates trucks and buses, has launched a “safety compliance investigation” into the company. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is joining in the investigation, as well.

TuSimple says human error is to blame for the April incident, but autonomous driving specialists say details in the June regulatory disclosure and internal company documents show fundamental problems with the company’s technology.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University dispute that it was all human error. They say common safeguards – like making sure the system can’t respond to commands more than a couple hundredths-of-a-second old or making it so that an improperly-functioning self-driving system can’t be engaged – would have prevented the crash.

City-university partnerships are a win-win. Here’s how they can best work together to fight climate change and adopt new tech.

July 29, 2022

These partnerships are a “win-win” scenario, said Karen Lightman, the executive director of Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
“It’s free advice for the city to take or leave,” she told Insider. “City-university collaboration gives researchers an opportunity to do something that’s meaningful and real-world based.”..

Atlanta-based Georgia Tech runs Smart Community Corps, a summer program that pairs the students from Georgia Tech and other colleges and universities in Georgia to work on real smart-city projects across the state. For example, students have worked on a traffic monitoring project in Valdosta and smart-pedestrian planning in Clayton County.

Working on city projects also shows students that public service is a career option, Lightman said. Students may choose to live and work in the city after graduation once they’ve been involved in a partnership, which helps municipalities retain talented residents and benefits the community in the long run.

Biden mulling plan to add butane to summer gas to lower price at pump

July 22, 2022

Saving 10 to 15 cents a gallon may sound good, especially at a time when it feels like every penny counts but scientists said there is a downside to butane in summer gas.

Just like it does in a lighter, butane evaporates quickly into the environment, causing ozone pollution on hot summer days.

“And so the fact that it likes to evaporate from the gasoline instead of going through the engine is what makes it a serious thing when it comes to ozone pollution,” said Neil Donahue, an atmospheric chemist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Donahue said butane in summer gas would cause health problems whose cost far outweighs the 15 cents per gallon savings.

“Putting butane in gasoline in the summer to lower the sticker price to make gas cheaper, makes using that gas more expensive. We pay in people getting sick,” Donahue said.

Pilot Programs Aim to Address Gaps in Transportation Access

July 18, 2022

New pilot programs in Oakland and Bakersfield, California, and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are working to address gaps in reliable and affordable transportation options by testing the concept of Universal Basic Mobility (UBM)…

Pittsburgh’s UBM pilot is the newest of the three and is just getting ready to launch. Similar to the California pilots, it will focus on underserved populations, selecting fifty residents to receive unlimited transit trips, free bike-share and scooter services, and Zipcar credits. This collection of services, known as Move PGH, is designed to work together to support different travel needs, with multi-modal trip planning provided in the transit app. Spin told the City of Pittsburgh: “We hope Move PGH can become a model for how micromobility operators can collaborate with cities and other mobility companies to better serve the public.” Researchers at Carnegie Mellon are evaluating this pilot and will collaborate with the UC Davis research team on an overall evaluation of all three pilots.

Pittsburgh’s RoadBotics just got acquired by Michelin

July 15, 2022

East Liberty-based RoadBotics has been acquired by French tire manufacturing giant Michelin.

The 2016-founded Carnegie Mellon University spinout specializes in using artificial intelligence to map the status and condition of a region’s infrastructure through visual and other data inputs. Its signature AI platform RoadWay has provided over 250 governments across the world with new assessment and management capabilities for their roads, per the company.

RoadBotics is led by cofounders Benjamin Schmidt, Ph.D., who is CEO, and Christoph Mertz, Ph.D., who is chief scientist. (Previous cofounder and CEO Mark DeSantis is now heading Bloomfield Robotics.) The company has previously raised $11.4 million in venture capital.

In a sparse press release on the news, Michelin said the deal would further Michelin DDi (or “Driving Data to Intelligence”), an initiative focused on preventative road safety, by incorporating RoadBotics’ computer vision technology. The service will be available in North America first before heading to Europe, the firm said.

Tesla’s high-profile Autopilot executive departs

July 15, 2022

Andrej Karpathy, a high-profile Tesla executive who played a key role in developing the electric car maker’s artificial intelligence and driver assistant technology, said on Wednesday he is leaving the company.

The departure of Karpathy, who provided no reason for leaving, comes at a critical time as Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk races to achieve full self-driving capability this year, after missing earlier targets several times…

The departure of Karpathy, whose title was senior director of AI, came after Tesla on Tuesday said it was shutting its office in San Mateo, California, part of the company’s team developing “Autopilot” driver assistant technology, and laying off over 200 people there…

“I would imagine that there will be an internal promotion to fill Karpathy’s position. It would not be easy to get somebody externally with Karpathy’s experience and knowledge,” said Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Near Earth Autonomy landed a $10M equity investment for its autonomous aircraft tech

July 5, 2022

Near Earth was founded as a spinout from Carnegie Mellon University at the end of 2012 and counted around 90 employees as of November…

In a city known for its success with self-driving road vehicles, CEO Sanjiv Singh told Technical.ly in the fall that Near Earth’s developmental challenges are “exactly the opposite” of those of most of the AV industry.

All autonomous vehicle developers look to address two main cases, Singh said: normal scenarios, and scenarios where something goes wrong. In the case of road vehicles, developing the autonomous platform to respond to a problem is easier, because it can direct the car to stop or pull over…

But for aircraft, because air travel is already extremely controlled, the general and normal scenarios an autonomous aircraft may come across are relatively simple to account for. The cases in which something goes wrong, however, present a huge challenge. Aircrafts, unlike cars, cannot simply pull over or land in the event of an error or system breakdown.

Tesla closes an office as layoff hits Autopilot jobs, including hourly ones

July 5, 2022

Tesla (TSLA.O) has shuttered its office in San Mateo, California and laid off roughly 200 employees working on its Autopilot driver-assistant system there, one of the people told Reuters, in a move seen as accelerating cost-cutting.

Most of the laid-off people had been hourly workers, that person said.

Early this month, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk told top managers he had a “super bad feeling” about the economy and that the maker of electric cars needed to cut staff by about 10%.

Later, the billionaire said that the 10% cuts would apply only to salaried workers and that hourly staff numbers were still expected to grow.

“Tesla clearly is in a major cost-cutting mode,” said Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “This (staff reduction) likely indicates that 2Q 2022 has been pretty rough on the company due to the shutdown in Shanghai, raw material costs and supply chain problems.”

4 ways communities can implement smart streetlights, traffic sensors, and other technology, according to leaders in cities with successful smart city projects

July 5, 2022

But, starting small, such as deploying smart streetlights on a couple of blocks before expanding citywide, allows cities to experiment and test solutions to see what works best, Karen Lightman, executive director of the Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, said. Otherwise, city leaders may risk wasting money on technology that isn’t the right fit. Cities also need to gather a small amount of data before they can know how to best use smart technology, Lightman added.

In Pittsburgh, Lightman’s team is working on a Smart Loading Zones project to help delivery drivers find places to park in the city that uses cameras to capture the license plates of vehicles illegally parked in loading zones. It launched in April with 15 parking spaces.