A Light Map Could Illuminate How Street Lamps Are Part Of Pittsburgh’s Pollution Problems

July 8, 2020

Streetlights emitting artificial beams through neighborhoods every night could be to blame for decreasing firefly populations and a generation of young people with no concept of what the Milky Way looks like in a starry night sky. A Carnegie Mellon University professor and self-proclaimed dark-sky defender, Diane Turnshek, is working with a small team to study the problem of night time light pollution in the Pittsburgh area.

Turnshek has been gathering high resolution images of Pittsburgh at night since November. Winter is the best time to collect this data because researchers aren’t competing with tree coverage, says Turnshek, who founded the Pittsburgh chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association.

The International Dark-Sky Association is the leading organization combating light pollution worldwide. The group has worked with several national parks to establish, “dark-sky oases,” where the nighttime sky is preserved.

A summer class of Carnegie Mellon University students is compiling the images and data collected by Turnshek and her CMU colleague, Stephen Quick, to create a light map of Pittsburgh at night.

City Of Pittsburgh Says New Method Of Salting Roads Saved $1M Last Winter

July 3, 2020

The Department of Public Works usually uses 917 tons of salt per inch, but utilizing new technology and a different salt mixture last winter, the department used 376 tons per inch, the city says.

The city says it costs about $88 per ton of salt. In previous years, dealing with this year’s snowfall would have cost $1.75 million, but instead it cost $718,000.

According to the city, it snowed 21.7 inches in the 2019-20 winter season. In the 2018-19 winter,the National Weather Service says Pittsburgh recorded 36.6 inches, and 59.8 the winter before that.

“From adopting the City’s first snow plow tracker in 2015 to deploying technological and mechanical upgrades to our snow plows, the changes we have made have not only expanded city services and transparency but saved us money too,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in a press release.

“The technology is already paying for itself and will only lead to more savings year after year.”

The electric future of autonomous vehicles

July 1, 2020

Autonomous vehicles come at a cost: increased energy use. Some suggest that these increased power needs are significant enough to drastically reduce vehicle range, eliminating the possibility of electric autonomous vehicles. Instead, these analysts claim autonomous vehicles must be gas-electric hybrids. In a paper recently published in Nature Energy, Aniruddh Mohan, Shashank Sripad, Parth Vaishnav, and Venkat Viswanathan of Carnegie Mellon University determined that electric power can supply enough energy for an autonomous vehicle without a significant decrease in range.

Two revolutions are happening side-by-side in the automotive industry: the transition to electric power and the rise of autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars may use more energy than people-driven cars to power sensors and computers for safe navigation. On the other hand, they drive more smoothly than humans do, which would reduce energy use.

CMU Researchers Want To Help Autonomous Vehicles See Like Humans

June 30, 2020

When a human drives a car, they know that what they see at any given moment may not completely represent potential obstacles in their path. For example, a truck could block a human driver’s vision of a pedestrian crossing the street, but a reasonable driver would consider that someone could be in the crosswalk before proceeding when a traffic light turns green.

Autonomous vehicles struggle with that concept.

Technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University could help fill in these gaps with more data. By borrowing techniques from map-making, an automous vehicle can better interpret what its sensors are seeing, according to Deva Ramanan, associate professor of robotics at CMU. Ramanan is also the director of the CMU Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research.

US Transportation Secretary Chao touts federal CARES Act funding benefits for Pittsburgh International Airport, Port Authority transit

June 25, 2020

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is spotlighting how local transportation and related jobs are benefiting from millions of dollars of federal help for dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says Pittsburgh International Airport is a major beneficiary of efforts to blunt the pandemic’s impact on aviation and transportation jobs.

“$36 million dollars for the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County airports. A large part of that went for payroll,” Chao told Pittsburgh’s Action News 4.

She said the Port Authority of Allegheny County has also gotten federal help through the federal coronavirus relief bill to keep public transportation rolling and alive…

Regarding transportation’s future and the development of autonomous vehicles or driverless cars, the research and development happening here in Pittsburgh has Chao’s attention.

“I think Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh should be so proud of the work Carnegie Mellon is doing on AVs. I’ve been to Carnegie Mellon more than one time. They are really leading the nation in terms of autonomous vehicles research,” Chao said.

CVPR challenge pushes researchers to improve car accident detection AI

June 22, 2020

AI researchers from more than 30 countries around the world came together this week for the AI City Challenge, a competition to spur the development of better machine learning via tasks such as detecting car accidents and tracking a vehicle across a network of cameras. Now in its fourth year, the challenge pushes AI researchers to create more efficient Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)…

A team from Carnegie Mellon University won one of the four challenges for tracking a vehicle over a network of multiple cameras. The benchmark data set for this challenge stretches across 46 camera views spanning 16 intersections in Dubuque, Iowa.

In total, the competition drew more than 800 individual researchers on 300 teams from 36 nations; 76 teams submitted code for final review..

Organizers called this year’s AI City Challenge the first to use effectiveness and computation efficiency standards the U.S. Department of Transportation says it needs to consider deployment of this form of automation in the wild.

Walmart’s Self-Driving Partner Is Changing E-Commerce Economics

June 19, 2020

Specifically, the three-year-old company is focused on so-called middle-mile delivery, the oft-overlooked leg between when, say, a sweater is trucked across the country and when it is ferried over the last few miles and dropped on someone’s porch. For three years now, Gatik has been strapping sensors all over vans and small trucks and moving groceries from large distribution centers to small warehouses, albeit with a human back-up driver aboard.

In a world of moon-shot technology, billion-dollar capital rounds and promises to disrupt private (and public) transportation as we know it, Gatik’s ambition is humble. Last summer, it raised $4.5 million from investors, a pint-sized sum among self-driving ventures. Though Gatik may not be sexy, its slow-lane approach has proved to be pragmatic and lucrative. Last summer, Walmart signed on as one of its first customers.

It turns out grocery delivery wasn’t a bad place to be when the pandemic broke out. We caught up with CEO and co-founder Gautam Narang, an alum of Carnegie Mellon’s robotics program, to get a state-of-play on one of the smallest, savviest players in the critical space where transportation meets retail.

RoadBotics recognised as Technology Pioneer by World Economic Forum

June 19, 2020

RoadBotics, the Pittsburgh-based technology company that automates road assessments, has been selected among hundreds of candidates as one of the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers. RoadBotics was spun out of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the world’s roads and infrastructure.

The World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers are early to growth-stage companies from around the world that are involved in the design, development and deployment of new technologies and innovations, and are poised to have a significant impact on business and society. Technology Pioneers community is an integral part of the larger Global Innovators community of start-ups at the World Economic Forum.

Dark Skies Over Pittsburgh

June 17, 2020

Pittsburgh officials asked researchers at CMU’s Remaking Cities Institute to observe the installations in 2010; Quick was a research associate on the project. The new LEDs were centered mainly in the city’s business districts, commercial areas, and major roadways. Five years later, Quick’s team conducted another study on streetlighting. They found that all the LED lights they tested produced significant glare problems.

“People think that by making light at night equivalent to daylight that that’s the best solution. But trying to simulate daylight is a real problem.” Quick said. His team found that once people’s eyes adjust to the dark, it’s difficult to shift back and forth between darkness and simulated daylight. Our capacity to transition quickly in and out of night vision degrades as we get older, along with our reaction time. So, for example, reacting to a potential hazard on a dark street right after turning off a heavily lit freeway becomes more difficult with age.

CMU research shows self-driving cars that recognize free space can better detect objects

June 16, 2020

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have shown that they can significantly improve the accuracy of autonomous vehicles’ detection of objects such as other cars or pedestrians by helping the vehicle also recognize what it doesn’t see.

That objects in your sight may obscure your view of things that lie further ahead is 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 3D data from lidar to represent objects as a point cloud and then try to match those point clouds to a library of 3D representations of objects. The problem, Hu said, is that the 3D data from the vehicle’s lidar isn’t really 3D—the sensor can’t see the occluded parts of an object, and current algorithms don’t reason about such occlusions…

In addition to Hu and Ramanan, the research team included Jason Ziglar of Argo AI and David Held, assistant professor of robotics. The Argo AI Center supported this research.

How Smart City Leaders Can Get Back to Basics and Use Data Effectively

June 10, 2020

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there was recognition that smart cities needed to return to basics and focus less on flashy technological displays and more on solutions that actually helped citizens. Now that the pandemic decimated local tax revenues, city budgets are under stress and IT investments may be curtailed. ..

The way ahead for smart cities is for civic and IT leaders to emphasize solutions that are both practical and data-driven, and not pushed by technology vendors or hype. Ultimately, they need to demonstrate real value for residents.

One example is an artificial intelligence-driven traffic-signaling system Pittsburgh recently deployed. The AI software detects vehicle traffic and produces a predictive model that generates a signal timing plan in real time, as GovTech reports.

Next Chapter for Smart Cities Is Practical, Equitable

June 3, 2020

Like so many American cities these days, Pittsburgh finds itself suffering from significant growth in traffic and road congestion. By 2017, drivers were spending an extra 81 hours commuting to work each year. To ease the problem, the city worked with Carnegie Mellon University to build a traffic signal system that ran on artificial intelligence instead of relying on pre-programmed signal cycles…

The project in Pittsburgh is more than just a smart city initiative. It’s an example of how the movement has evolved. It tackles an ordinary problem using the latest technology in an innovative way. There are multiple players involved, including a startup — Rapid Flow Technologies, which was spun out of Carnegie Mellon — and it was built to scale up. Eventually, more than 600 intersections throughout Pittsburgh could be using the technology. Finally, the solution aims to be equitable, affecting the entire community, including those who don’t have cars but use the streets anyway.

Self driving cars rev their engines for their own Indy 500 race

June 2, 2020

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is putting a new spin on its classic high-speed car race.

In 2021, it will host the Indy Autonomous Challenge, a competition where student teams work to develop self-driving cars that can operate at speeds of 200 mph, maneuver the track and outrace their opponents…

…two Pittsburgh companies are serving as sponsors for the event: Canonsburg-based Ansys, a software company that makes simulation technology, and Aptiv, an automotive company that is building self-driving cars in Hazelwood Green.

Among the 31 participating teams from 37 universities is a 30-person group from the University of Pittsburgh made up of mostly undergraduate students involved in the school’s robotics and automation club.

Carnegie Mellon University, which is widely known for its work in autonomous technology, is not participating in the Indy Autonomous Challenge. But, the school is represented in a separate international autonomous vehicle challenge — the Roborace series. This competition is also designed to push the development of autonomous software and autonomous driving.

CMU will be the first U.S. team to participate in the series and anticipates competing later this year.

Autonomous car company Aurora increases hiring amid industry struggles

May 28, 2020

Autonomous vehicle (AV) startup Aurora today announced it has roughly doubled its workforce to 500 people (up from 250 as of May 2019) and committed to hiring workers across the company as it welcomes 22 remote interns and a trio of executives.

Aurora’s hiring spree — which has a specific focus on mid- to senior-level engineers in software and infrastructure, robotics, hardware, cloud, and firmware — comes at a particularly fraught time for AV companies. The economic fallout from the pandemic has begun to take its toll, with even well-funded ventures like Cruise, Kodiak Robotics, and Ike shedding hundreds of employees collectively. (The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that another behemoth — Zoox, which also laid off employees — is in talks with Amazon about a potential buyout.) Against this backdrop, Aurora CEO Chris Urmson says the company remains in a “solid position” with enough runway to employ its existing team members (including its full-time vehicle operators) and to continue hiring as it advances the development of its full-stack autonomous platform.

What will summer vacation be like in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?

May 28, 2020

Stan Caldwell, a traffic researcher and chief of Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 Institute, said most Americans are likely staying at or near home this weekend and in the months ahead, noting that airplanes, trains and buses are operating well below normal levels following a plunge in demand early in the spring.

Revamping travel in those modes may be challenging because it is dependent on Americans regaining confidence in their safety.

Those who travel this summer will mostly do it by car and to regional destinations, experts say. Emptier roads and low fuel prices combined with cabin fever brought on by extended stay-at-home orders will probably drive regional and local leisure trips…

“Vehicle travel will be the travel of choice for summer vacation and starting this weekend,” Caldwell said. “My prediction is that there will be more regional travel by vehicle, but less overall travel in general.”

WQED Show Brings CMU Robotics Classes To High School Students

May 27, 2020

High school students finishing their coursework at home can now access Carnegie Mellon University-quality robotics instructions on television. WQED has launched a new show called “The Robot Doctor” geared toward supporting STEM teachers with curriculum anyone can access.

The show is the only gateway some students have to learn about robotics, according to Darryl Ford Williams, WQED’s Vice President of Content.

“Our goal was to reach high school students across the board, but particularly those who would not have access to internet where they might ordinarily be able to find these videos on YouTube or just by going to a website,” she said.

The show’s host is Jonathan Butzke, a CMU graduate and lead robotics researcher at RobotWitz. He explains how robots are designed and how they move, collect data and sense the world around them, all in language high schoolers can understand.

Ridership down, cleaning costs up, Port Authority navigates financial hurdles of COVID-19

May 27, 2020

Diminished ridership numbers make the argument for reducing or eliminating fares in the long term and instead increasing public funding, according to Stan Caldwell, executive director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 institute. Caldwell said he believes that ridership will initially remain low even when the virus calms because many will choose other transportation options out of concern for their health.

“The natural reaction would be to either increase the cost or decrease the service,” Caldwell said. “And by doing those, you’re going to go back to the shrinking system that we had years ago where then that was creating a downward spiral where you’re making transit less attractive to people to use.”

Caldwell posits that transit agencies like the Port Authority should still seek state and federal funding but that transit agencies thrive whenever there is significant local funding, through mechanisms such as a sales tax. According to the Port Authority’s most recent budget, the state provided about $242 million in their 2019 fiscal year and the agency anticipated $275 million in state funding for 2020. Caldwell noted that public transit in Salt Lake City has found success with local sales taxes, which funds about 69% of its operations.

Pittsburgh Will Revamp Its Streets As Economy Begins To Reopen

May 19, 2020

With the warming weather and the city of Pittsburgh squarely in the yellow phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan, more people are leaving their houses. A City of Pittsburgh task force has proposed a number of ways that streets and transit could be modified to balance the demands of physical distancing with an increase in economic activity.

In a letter to Mayor Bill Peduto, the Streets and Mobility Task Force stressed its recommendations are not meant to be all-encompassing.

“It is a rapid response to an urgent need for creative problem-solving,” wrote Allen Biehler, the chair of the task force and the former secretary of PennDOT. “No one size or one approach will suit all places, contexts and needs.”


May 18, 2020

The novel coronavirus has brought the shared scooter and bike business to the brink of financial collapse. Demand has evaporated — an analysis of credit card data by The New York Times found that spending on scooter rentals had fallen the most of all transportation modes, by nearly 100 percent — companies are laying off employees en masse, and their previously sky-high valuations have been almost wiped out. Rather than basking in the sun and delighting in the reduced car traffic, the scooter industry is looking at end times.

“The big scooter companies are losing so much money right now,” said Courtney Ehrlichman, former deputy executive director of Carnegie Mellon University’s mobility research institute. “They’re just trying to hold their pants on. I don’t see them being really strategic. And who’s gonna throw money in to do that right now?”

Locomation announces research partnership

May 14, 2020

Pittsburgh-based autonomous trucking company Locomation announced a research partnership with Transportation Research Center Inc. in East Liberty, Ohio.

Locomation will test its autonomous truck platforms with TRC’s research and development team. The partnership will help Locomation test different on-road scenarios and what results to look for, Locomation CEO and co-founder Cetin Mericli.

Testing and research are scheduled to continue through the remainder of 2020 at TRC’s test track facility in Ohio. This partnership does not include on-road testing.

Pittsburgh’s airport is the first in the US to use UV-cleaning robots

May 8, 2020

Pittsburgh International Airport has put UVC fixtures on its floor-cleaning robots, making it the first airport in the US to test the use of the ultraviolet rays to scrub the coronavirus from surfaces. If effective, the UV-cleaning robots could be a model for other airports as they plan to reopen and try to persuade people to travel again.

Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said the partnership with Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Robotics highlights how the burgeoning robotics sector in Pittsburgh works alongside the community to solve big-picture problems…

The partnership with the airport and Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Robotics is a potential model for other airports, and it also highlights Pittsburgh’s status as a robotics hub. It’s the latest sign of the airport’s focus on tech innovation. In 2018, the airport announced it was partnering with Carnegie Mellon University for the Metro21: Smart Cities Institute, to develop tech projects for the aviation industry.

The Relentless Startup Fast-Tracking Ford’s Self-Driving Cars

May 6, 2020

Meet Bryan Salesky and the team of resourceful engineers at Argo, the little company trying to crack a big problem: safe autonomous driving…

“We need a ride that’s comfortable, confident, and intelligent,” Rander says. “I don’t mean rocket science. I need common sense.”

That kind of metric—more than miles, funding dollars, or public attention—is what Salesky keeps his eye on as Argo marches toward launching its technology, in 2022 or whenever it’s ready His role as CEO, ultimately, isn’t so different from what he did for Carnegie Mellon’s Urban Challenge team. He spends his days talking to his managers, checking their progress against the goals they’ve set. He spends lots of time with the operations team, talking to the test drivers who live with the cars every day. The big difference now is that he, the quiet American, is the one in the driver’s seat.


May 5, 2020

Many smartphone apps as well as in-car infotainment systems have added features over the years that try to prevent a driver from using them, but they run into the issue that it’s hard to distinguish between passenger and driver. As it turns out, asking the human driver whether they are the driver doesn’t always get the expected result. This is where [Rushil Khurana] and his team at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have come up with a more fool-proof approach.

In their paper (PDF), they cover the algorithm and software implementation that uses the smartphone’s own front (selfie) and back cameras to determine from the car’s interior which side of the car the user is sitting in, and deducing from that whether the user is sitting in the driver’s seat or not. From there it is a fairly safe assumption to make that if the user is sitting in the driver’s seat, and the car is moving, that this user should not be looking at the phone’s screen.

This DoorDash for surplus food aims to cut waste and help solve hunger

April 29, 2020

For spontaneous pick-ups and drop-offs, a push notification alerts a volunteer who may be nearby, and who may have the time, to run food from one of these spots to a charity or NGO, ranging from large pantries to smaller shelters for the homeless or for abused women. “A truck could never go there,” says Leah Lizarondo, cofounder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue, explaining why this model is nimbler, cheaper, more efficient, and more able to serve all the pockets of the community, than trucks. The app can send a single car to a shelter that houses just five or so people; or it can send multiple cars to a big pantry…

Staff at Metro21 Smart Cities Institute, part of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, helps the organization optimize the app for equity, making sure every food-insecure community is being served at an equal rate. And, in the long term, it’s assisting to gather data so that they can eventually deploy AI to the system for full automation.

Who is tracking your smartphone data during coronavirus pandemic?

April 17, 2020

Smartphone companies have always gathered data on their users. But in the weeks since the covid-19 pandemic gained traction in the U.S., special attention has been given to data’s role in curbing the spread of the disease. Experts say data can be used to trace individuals’ contact with others who have tested positive for covid-19.

In a process known as “contact tracing,” location data can show where an infected individual traveled and what establishments they entered. Bluetooth signals from smartphones can help authorities see who an infected person came in contact with.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much data their smartphone (and smartphone apps) are collecting on them,” said Jason Hong, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.