Electric air taxis face turbulence before take-off

September 18, 2020

Advances in batteries may help accelerate the widespread adoption of air taxis, with a shift from lithium-ion to a lighter battery made from pure lithium metal on the horizon.

Venkat Viswanathan, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, is developing such a battery in partnership with the US government’s Department of Energy and a battery maker.

He says that the battery will be more energy efficient, up to 30 per cent lighter than standard lithium-ion batteries, and enable air taxis to travel longer on one charge.

“Air taxis [will also be] cheaper to run because it becomes more energy efficient if your battery is lighter,” he adds.

Which Is Worse for the Environment: Driving or Flying?

September 14, 2020

And now for another layer of complication: A longer flight is more efficient than a shorter flight or one with multiple layovers. “A large share of fuel in flying is consumed during takeoff and landing, so the greater the distance, the smaller the relative fuel consumption burden from takeoff and landing is on the overall flight,” explains Nicholas Muller, PhD, a professor of Economics, Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. In fact, a NASA report from 2010 states that a quarter of airplane emissions come from landing and taking off, with taxiing being the largest source…

The most eco-friendly way to reach your destination may not be by car or airplane. According to an ICCT report, on comparable trips in the United States, a plane gets 43 miles per gallon per person; this is less efficient than trains or cars, which get 51 mpg and 53 mpg per person, respectively. Interurban buses are, by far, the most efficient at 152 mpg per individual.

Japanese ‘flying car’ takes off, with a person aboard

September 7, 2020

The decades-old dream of zipping around in the sky as simply as driving on highways could be becoming less illusory.

Japan’s SkyDrive Inc, among the myriads of “flying car” projects around the world, has carried out a successful though modest test flight with one person aboard.

In a video shown to reporters on Friday, a contraption that looked like a slick motorcycle with propellers lifted 1m to 2m off the ground, and hovered in a netted area for four minutes.

“Many things have to happen,” said Sanjiv Singh, professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, who cofounded Near Earth Autonomy, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is also working on an eVTOL aircraft.

“If they cost US$10 million, no one is going to buy them. If they fly for five minutes, no one is going to buy them. If they fall out of the sky every so often, no one is going to buy them,” Singh said in a telephone interview.

The utopian promise and dystopian potential of real-time detection of police, fire, and medical emergencies

September 4, 2020

The AI City Challenge was created to solve traffic operations challenges with AI and make smart public transportation systems. One 2020 challenge, for example, focuses on the detection of stalled cars or traffic accidents on the freeway. Roughly 30 teams participated in the inaugural challenge in 2017. This year saw 800 individual researchers on 300 teams from 36 nations; 72 teams ultimately submitted final code.

AI City Challenge has always been an international competition that welcomes teams from around the world. But since its launch, virtually all of the winning teams have been from China and the United States. Teams from the University of Washington and University of Illinois took top honors in 2017. In 2018, a University of Washington team took first place in two of three competitions, with a team from Beijing University in second place. This year, a team from Carnegie Mellon University won a single competition, but teams from Chinese universities and companies like Baidu won three out of four contests, and Chinese teams captured most runner-up spots, as well.

Project Uses AI to Maximize Meal Delivery to Students in Need

September 4, 2020

In this month’s installment of the Innovation of the Month series, we explore a collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University, Allies for Children and several other community groups in Allegheny County, Pa., applying machine learning technology to addressing the disruption to school meal programs caused by COVID-19. MetroLab’s Ben Levine spoke with Karen Lightman and Stephen Smith at Carnegie Mellon University about the background and development of their project…

Metro21’s sister organization, Traffic21 Institute, offered some startup funding and Allies for Children connected us with the Penn Hills School District, an area where students were particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Other critical partners to this deployment include the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Greater Pittsburgh community Food Bank, ACCESS Transportation Systems and Eat’n Park Restaurants.

Automated trucking, a technical milestone that could disrupt hundreds of thousands of jobs, hits the road

August 28, 2020

You know that universal sign we give truckers, hoping they’ll sound their air horns? Well, you’re going to be hearing a lot less honking in the future. And with good reason. The absence of an actual driver in the cab. We may focus on the self-driving car, but autonomous trucking is not an if, it’s a when. And the when is coming sooner than you might expect…
Steve Viscelli: As truckers like to say, if you bought it, a truck brought it.

Steve Viscelli is a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert in freight transportation and automation. He also spent six months driving a big rig.

Jon Wertheim: What segment do you think’s gonna be hit first by driverless trucks?

Steve Viscelli: I’ve identified two segments that I think are most at-risk. And that’s– refrigerated and dry van truckload. And those constitute about 200,000 trucking jobs. And then what’s called line haul and they’re somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000-90,000 jobs there.

Penn Hills School District to feed online, hybrid learners throughout upcoming school year

August 26, 2020

Penn Hills School District officials have a plan to ensure students stay fed this coming school year no matter if they come to class or learn online…

Hines commended the food service department for its efforts to ensure no student goes hungry during the covid-19 pandemic.

“I’m really proud of our team because we haven’t skipped a beat,” Hines said. “If there’s a need within a family, we want to meet that.”

Hines also said the summer/spring food distribution was successful due to partnerships with nonprofits Second Chance, Allies for Children, United Way and Carnegie Mellon University.

Why Excessive AI Politeness Could Be Oddly Inconsiderate, Implications Too For Self-Driving Cars

August 25, 2020

Politeness arises not only among humans, but also can appear when interacting with automation. There is a veritable tsunami of AI systems being developed and fielded, many of which make use of Natural Language Processing (NLP). You are likely familiar with Alexa and Siri, which are prime examples of today’s capabilities at NLP and how such state-of-the-art AI systems interact with humans.

At first, the use of AI NLP was undertaken in a somewhat neutral or non-polite mode…

There are various AI research efforts trying to figure out these aspects, including taking non-polite human utterances and doing an automated translation into polite versions, using Machine Learning and Deep Learning, for which this is a lot harder than you might think (for an interesting study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University on politeness transfer

Pitt receives $1 million to study the future of autonomous vehicles for people with disabilities

August 17, 2020

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to transform the way we get around. But does that include everyone?

One group of people that could greatly benefit from this revolution are those with disabilities, yet it’s an area that hasn’t received much attention.

That’s the mission of Pitt’s new Tier 1 University Transportation Center. The U.S. Department of Transportation just awarded $1 million to the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh, for a study of how automated vehicles can help people with disabilities…

“We’re very excited to bring the first University Transportation Center to the University of Pittsburgh, and the second one to Pittsburgh,” says Cooper. “There’s one at Carnegie Mellon as well. It’s pretty exciting for a city of our size to have two centers.”

Researchers Find That Radar Can Be Used to Detect a Nail in a Tire Long Before It Goes Flat

August 14, 2020

Your car’s dashboard is a smorgasbord of information when it comes to the health and performance of your vehicle. But the one thing it can’t warn drivers about is when the tread on their tires has worn out. It’s a safety risk that researchers from Carnegie Mellon University are focusing on with a new real-time monitoring system that relies on radar.

Osprey uses millimeter-wave radar components that are already widely available for automotive applications, but mounted in a vehicle’s wheel wells, and focused on the surface of each tire.

The high-speed spinning motion of a tire actually improves the accuracy of millimeter-wave radar sensors to sub-millimeter measurements. By bouncing signals off of a tire and precisely measuring how long it takes them to return, the Osprey system can not only measure the depth of a tire’s tread, it knows how those measurements have changed over time, potentially giving drivers an estimate of how long until they need to pony up for a new set of wheels.

Aptiv, Hyundai team up to launch Motional and develop self-driving cars

August 14, 2020

After solidifying a partnership in March, tech provider Aptiv and vehicle manufacturer Hyundai Motor Group announced Tuesday a new name for their joint venture to develop and commercialize autonomous vehicles: Motional…

Motional is designing Level 4 autonomous vehicles, which means the human in the driver seat is not driving the car when the self-driving features are enabled and is not required to take over if something goes wrong.

The company plans to start testing this year and to make its driverless systems and supporting technology available to robotaxi providers and fleet operators in 2022.

Based in Boston, Motional also has offices in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Santa Monica, Singapore and Seoul. In Pittsburgh, where Aptiv has been testing self-driving vehicles since 2013, the company is moving its headquarters from O’Hara to Hazelwood Green’s Mill 19.

Aptiv and Hyundai’s joint venture launches identity as Motional

August 14, 2020

Pittsburgh’s autonomous vehicle sector has a new name to learn.

In March, Dublin-based tech company Aptiv merged its self-driving vehicle team, which operates in part out of Pittsburgh, in a joint venture with Hyundai Motor Group. On Tuesday, that joint venture, valued at $4 billion, officially launched its identity as Motional.

Motional, based in Boston, will continue to operate its Hazelwood Green office, previously part of Aptiv, according to Motional CEO Karl Iagnemma. He said the company, which currently has 220 employees in Pittsburgh, is hiring quickly.

Motional operates a closed course test track in Beaver County.

Iagnemma said the name of the joint venture comes from the combination of “motion” and “emotional.”

CMU researchers train autonomous drones using cross-modal simulated data

August 11, 2020

A novel method developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers allows drones to learn perception and action separately.

The two-stage approach overcomes the “simulation-to-reality gap”, and creates a way to safely deploy drones trained entirely on simulated data into real-world course navigation.

Rogerio Bonatti, a doctoral student in the School of Computer Science’s Robotics Institute, says: “Typically drones trained on even the best photorealistic simulated data will fail in the real world because the lighting, colors and textures are still too different to translate…

Bonatti wants to push current technology to approach a human’s ability to interpret environmental cues.

He says: “Most of the work on autonomous drone racing so far has focused on engineering a system augmented with extra sensors and software with the sole aim of speed.

“Instead, we aimed to create a computational fabric, inspired by the function of a human brain, to map visual information to the correct control actions going through a latent representation.”

When self-driving tech was in its infancy, a road trip by 2 CMU researchers paved the way

August 7, 2020

At the end of July 1995, a pair of Carnegie Mellon University researchers embarked on a nearly 3,000-mile road trip across the country — from Pittsburgh to San Diego — in an unsuspecting black minivan.

Neither was driving.

The van, a 1990 Pontiac Trans Sport dubbed “Navlab 5,” was loaded up with the latest self-driving technology developed at CMU. Its pilot was called the Rapidly Adapting Lateral Position Handler, or, RALPH for short, and it had the wheel as Dean Pomerleau and Todd Jochem kept a careful eye.

Their journey was called the “No Hands Across America” tour, a play on the 1986 “Hands Across America” fundraiser, and it was the longest trip ever made by a self-driving vehicle at the time — 2,849 miles over seven days from July 23 to 30 in 1995.

Thursday was the 25th anniversary of Navlab 5’s arrival in San Diego…

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that the University of Pittsburgh would receive a $1 million grant to study the accessibility and implications of autonomous vehicles for people with disabilities.

Coronavirus Led To Less Traffic, Which Has Been Good For The Air But A Mixed Bag for PennDOT

August 7, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic upended commuting patterns in the Pittsburgh region. In the early months of Pennsylvania’s shutdown, traffic dropped by as much as 50 percent in Allegheny County, according to Streetlight Data. On average, PennDOT officials say vehicular traffic remains about 20 percent lower than normal.

In a recent paper, a Carnegie Mellon University research group documented a drop in air pollutants. Their work showed that less driving meant lower concentrations of emissions such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. Professor Albert Presto said more surprising was the decrease in fine particulate matter, which are really small particles that can cause big health problems.

“That was the same whether we were in a high-traffic place or a low-traffic place,” he said.

How Hyliion’s Under-30 CEO Aims To Compete With Tesla And Nikola In The Electric-Powered Big Rig Revolution

August 7, 2020

When Thomas Healy was selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2017, his startup, Hyliion, was still in the early stages of developing an innovation he called the “e-axle”—that’s an electrified axle, powered by lithium-ion batteries, that could be incorporated into the drivetrain of a traditional Class 8, long-haul truck.

Healy saw the e-axle as a hybrid bolt-on solution for bringing electric power to the world of long-haul trucking. The e-axle could be retrofitted onto old trucks, or built into new ones. The benefits were clear—the e-axle would provide a helping hand, adding power and torque that allowed the diesel block to work more efficiently, improving fuel mileage and lowering emissions, while also capturing power via regenerative braking.

Healy says trucking fleets told him: “You can’t deliver a solution that weighs a lot more than a conventional truck does because that’s just going to cut into our cargo capacity.” So the Hypertruck features a small battery pack, a small generator, “with a really strong software algorithm behind it.”

The 100-Year History of Self-Driving Cars

August 5, 2020

Self-driving wasn’t confined to the laboratory for long. CPUs and image-processing techniques improved, so that by the late 1970s engineers at the University of Tsukuba’s Mechanical Engineering Lab were able to test the world’s first self-driving passenger vehicle, on Japanese roads. Traveling at speeds up to 20 miles per hour, these first AVs used two video cameras to visually detect street markings. In the 1980s the action moved to Europe, where Ernst Dickmanns, a professor at West Germany’s Armed Forces University, retrofitted a Mercedes-Benz van with self-driving gadgets of his own design, launching a decade-long collaboration with auto giant Daimler.

Finally, it was the Americans’ turn, as Carnegie Mellon University took the lead in the 1990s. As the competition to build self-driving machines spread worldwide, the software improved quickly and computers got ever faster, unlocking new possibilities. By the decade’s end, the first cross-country trips under automated control — in the U.S., Germany, and Japan — were in the record books.

Ohio State receives $1.9 million grant to thwart hackers targeting GPS

August 4, 2020

Ohio State, which will lead the project involving other universities, is seeking an affordable solution as more and more people use GPS to navigate in their cars, autonomous vehicles become more popular and drones rely more on pre-programmed destinations…

“The team at Ohio State has written extensively on positioning, navigation, timing, and resiliency. It’s conducted pioneering work in the field,” said Furchtgott-Roth. “They’ve conducted tests of interference and spoofing and developed techniques to achieve resilient, accurate and assured positioning navigation and timing in many, many difficult environments. So we were so impressed with them.”

Ohio State also was an ideal fit because of the school’s ties to the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty the largest test facility in the country which includes the SMARTCenter, the largest autonomous vehicle proving grounds.

How The Pittsburgh Left Became Embedded In City Driving

July 31, 2020

The by-the-book approach is typically how the city’s recent fleet of self-driving vehicles are trained when they hit the roads, according to Carnegie Mellon University research professor Jeff Schneider. He was part of the team to found Uber’s autonomous vehicle division in 2015.

“We would never program our own cars to do something that, you know, wasn’t legally the right thing to do,” Schneider said. “The part that is not avoidable is dealing with the fact that other drivers on the road will be doing the Pittsburgh left.”

These vehicles are constantly collecting data about other drivers’ behaviors, which is where Schneider says machine learning comes into play.

“Essentially when we collect all the data from other cars driving around the streets, eventually the learning algorithms will see that pattern,” Schneider said.

The Road to Electric Vehicles with Lower Sticker Prices than Gas Cars – Battery Costs Explained

July 29, 2020

The Department of Energy goal for the industry is to reduce the price of battery packs to less than $100/kWh and ultimately to about $80/kWh. At these battery price points, the sticker price of an EV is likely to be lower than that of a comparable combustion engine vehicle.

Forecasting when that price crossover will occur requires models that account for the cost variables: design, materials, labor, manufacturing capacity and demand. These models also show where researchers and manufacturers are focusing their efforts to reduce battery costs. Our group at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a model of battery costs that accounts for all aspects of EV battery manufacturing.

COVID Pandemic-19 Shows Telecommuting Can Help Fight Climate Change

July 27, 2020

To work out the emissions impact of teleworking, researchers have to consider several factors that can vary from city to city: how people get to work on a normal commute, how far they travel, how much commercial and residential electricity use changes and what power sources are involved, says Constantine Samaras, director of the Center for Engineering and Resilience for Climate Adaptation at Carnegie Mellon University. Working remotely is more likely to have a benefit where it replaces commuting by car, for example. On the electricity side, if teleworking leads to more electricity use in an area and requires additional coal-fueled power plants to come online, it could outweigh the emissions reductions from not driving, says Kenneth Gillingham, an environmental and energy economist at Yale University and lead author of the Joule analysis. On the other hand, if that added electricity comes from renewable energy, telecommuting could offer more significant emissions reductions.

Are Vehicle Safety Features Actually Reducing Car Accidents?

July 24, 2020

But do cars with advanced safety systems really make everything safer? Most studies suggest they do. For example, the crash involvement rate for vehicles with blind-spot monitoring was 14% lower than the same models without the equipment, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“The same study suggested that if every vehicle sold in the United States in 2015 was equipped with blind-spot monitoring, 50,000 crashes and 16,000 crash injuries might have been prevented,” says David Braunstein, president of Together For Safer Roads, a coalition of companies dedicated to better road safety.

Corey Harper, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, says his analysis suggests the combination of vehicle crash avoidance technologies reduces crash frequency by about 3.5%.

“If vehicle crash avoidance technologies were deployed throughout the light-duty vehicle fleet, we could see crash prevention cost savings of up to $264 billion, assuming all relevant crashes are prevented,” he says.

The Nation’s Marquee ‘Smart City’ Program Continues to Evolve

July 23, 2020

Don Carter, a research fellow with the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, described what’s happening in Columbus as “essentially a research project.”

“We’re going to learn from what worked and didn’t work technically, what worked and didn’t work from a public policy viewpoint,” he said.

“The telephone was a research project originally,” Carter added. “We’re just getting to the threshold, the beginning of the race, as to what this smart city thing might be. The best time to look back on it would be 100 years from now.”

Offsetting carbon emissions, one ton at a time

July 23, 2020

“I’ve spent my career telling people to fly less. If you told me in the fall how few planes would be in the sky right now, I would have been shocked,” says Megan Ryerson, associate professor of transportation engineering and planning in the Weitzman School of Design. Since the global pandemic has kept people home, air travel has dropped precipitously. The airline industry is one of the biggest buyers of carbon offsets, and is responsible for 12% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from all transport sources. Logically, it follows that this unprecedented period of reduced jet fuel emissions means less money diverted to a third-party carbon offset provider.

This isn’t the takeaway to consider from the pandemic, argues Ryerson. It’s whether frequent flyers and the airline industry will return to the same travel patterns, rather than harnessing the global pause and reevaluating a new normal for jet fuel emissions and travel in general. “Whether offsets are purchased or built into travel or energy plans should not be a sign or metric of conservation. We’ll see success when we need fewer offsets, and when they are cheaper to buy.”

Taxis trialled as smart city sensors in China

July 22, 2020

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are collaborating with Chinese company Environmental Thinking and the cities of Shenzhen and Tianjin to turn taxis into a mobile sensing platform which enables cost-effective, widespread data collection.

They say as few as ten taxis could be effective, although more will improve accuracy, and applications for cities include monitoring traffic congestion, noise and air pollution.

Pei Zhang, Associate Research Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at CMU, said: “Placing sensors all over a city with high density would be expensive and difficult to maintain, but managed fleets like taxis are everywhere and go everywhere in a city.”