SEPTA’s cracking battery buses raise questions about the future of electric transit

July 23, 2021
Posted in News

It’s been nearly a year and a half since a passenger set foot inside one of SEPTA’s Proterra buses, which cost nearly a million dollars apiece when they rolled out in 2019. Most are now gathering dust in a South Philly bus depot, riven by cracked chassis and other defects. The diesel and hybrid buses that SEPTA planned to replace with the all-electric fleet remain in service, with no timeline for the e-buses to return…

Proponents, like engineering professor Jeremy J. Michalek, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Vehicle Electrification Group, said he worries incidents like the mysterious failure of SEPTA’s ballyhooed battery fleet will scare others away from zero-emission vehicles.

“I definitely worry about those kinds of things,” he said. “If we push too fast, too early, and the technology isn’t ready and people have bad experiences, they may be reluctant to try again. There’s only a few ways to move people around without emissions, and electric vehicles are one of them.”
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How Germany Hopes to Get the Edge in Driverless Technology

July 20, 2021
Posted in News

With its requirement that autonomous vehicles be overseen by humans, the German law reflects a realization in the industry that researchers are still years away from cars that can safely allow the driver to disengage while the car does all the work. The law also requires that autonomous vehicles operate in a defined space approved by the authorities, an acknowledgment that the technology is not advanced enough to work safely in areas where traffic is chaotic and unpredictable…

Raj Rajkumar, who leads the autonomous driving program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which has produced many of the leading scientists in the field, said the new legislation would give German companies an advantage. But he said he was concerned that the United States and Europe were both at risk of falling behind China in technology and regulations.

“There is an international arms race between the U.S., Europe and China,” said Mr. Rajkumar, who estimates that fully autonomous vehicles are still a decade away. “China is an authoritarian country. They can pass any rules they want overnight.”
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Why the grid is ready for fleets of electric trucks

July 16, 2021
Posted in News

While short-range electric trucks seem relatively close to commercial reality, some researchers have cautioned that stretching the range of electric trucks might not be technologically or economically feasible in the short term.

“For sure you would do short haul, there’s no question about it, because the economics are in favor, everything is in favor,” says Venkat Viswanathan, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University. And with batteries getting cheaper and lighter, trucks that can travel up to around 500 miles between charges are looking more realistic, Viswanathan says.

But batteries would need to keep getting cheaper and lighter to compete with the range of diesel trucks, which can cover more than 1,000 miles without refueling. Alternatively, fast charging might open up some of the longest routes to electric trucks eventually, although the infrastructure needed to support fast charging for even bigger batteries would require significant investment.

“A few of these trucks coming and charging would be like the entire power load of a small town,” Viswanathan adds.
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City of Pittsburgh and partners launch MaaS-focused, basic mobility initiatives

July 16, 2021
Posted in News

The city of Pittsburgh, Pa., the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) and private company partners celebrated the launch of two innovative initiatives – MovePGH and Universal Basic Mobility – aimed at easing access to mobility options.

MovePGH utilizes 50 physical and digital “mobility hubs” where transit and shared mobility options are integrated into a Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) system. Travelers can find a bus, bike, scooter, moped, car or shared ride using the Transit app or by visiting one of the mobility hubs.

The second program, Universal Basic Mobility, ensures low-income users can easily access these integrated mobility services. The Universal Basic Mobility initiative will provide up to 100 local low-income residents with monthly transit subscriptions and shared mobility services to address mobility insecurity for a period of six months…

Spin is providing funding to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and will also be working with Urban Institute to evaluate the demonstration to potentially serve as a national model.
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Tech companies are using Pennsylvania roads to test self-driving vehicles. Are they following the state’s guidelines?

July 16, 2021
Posted in News

In 2020, eight entities were authorized to test in Pennsylvania, including Motional AD, a tech company using self-driving shuttles in Las Vegas and Aurora Innovation, a tech giant that’s partnered with Toyota and Volvo. The busiest has been Argo AI, which had its HAVs travel at least 45,000 miles on arterial roads in Alleghany and Westmoreland counties. The company has reached partnerships with Ford and Volkswagen.

NVIDIA, a international technology corporation best known for computer graphics, received authorization to test vehicles on Interstate 78 and Route 22 but did not do so, according to documents it filed with PennDOT.

All of the companies centered their work around Pittsburgh, where Carnegie Mellon University has been researching autonomous vehicle technology since the mid 1980s. The university is among the groups authorized to perform research on public roads. Qualcomm Technologies received authorization to start testing in the greater Philadelphia area in January.
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Tesla Says Autopilot Makes Its Cars Safer. Crash Victims Say It Kills.

July 12, 2021
Posted in News

Similar systems offered by General Motors, Ford Motor and other automakers use cameras to track a driver’s eyes and issue warnings when they look away from the road. After a few warnings, G.M.’s Super Cruise system shuts down and requires the driver to take control.

Autopilot does not track drivers’ eyes and monitors only if their hands are on the steering wheel. The system sometimes continues operating even if drivers have their hands on the steering wheel for only a few seconds at a time.

“This monitoring system is fundamentally weak because it’s easy to cheat and doesn’t monitor very consistently,” said Raj Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who focuses on autonomous driving technology.

Consumer Reports said in May that one of its engineers had been able to turn on Autopilot in a Tesla and slip into the back seat while the car kept going.
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Smart city success through connected sensors and edge analytics

July 12, 2021
Posted in News

As an example, Atlanta, Georgia, has employed surveillance cameras and analytics to create a “smart corridor” for traffic on one of the main midcity routes. A specific goal of the project is to improve the quality of life in the city by reducing emissions and pollution on a route that carries almost 29,000 vehicles every day.

The system uses Citilog’s (Paris, France; www.citilog.com) analytics application installed on 84 Axis (Lund, Sweden; www.axis.com) surveillance cameras covering 26 intersections along the 2.3-mile route. Traffic data—including vehicle counts, speed, and occupancy —is used by SURTRAC, an adaptive traffic signal control technology developed at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA, USA; www.ri.cmu.edu) that optimizes the performance of traffic signals.

In enabling real-time adjustments of traffic signals, the solution improves travel time and reduces waiting time at intersections. Over the longer term, the data recorded allow city planners to optimize traffic operations through offline analysis.
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A Global Smart-City Competition Highlights China’s Rise in AI

July 7, 2021
Posted in News

FOUR YEARS AGO, organizers created the international AI City Challenge to spur the development of artificial intelligence for real-world scenarios like counting cars traveling through intersections or spotting accidents on freeways.

In the first years, teams representing American companies or universities took top spots in the competition. Last year, Chinese companies won three out of four competitions.

Last week, Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Baidu swept the AI City Challenge, beating competitors from nearly 40 nations…

Stan Caldwell is executive director of Mobility21, a project at Carnegie Mellon University assisting smart-city development in Pittsburgh. Caldwell laments that China invests twice as much as the US in research and development as a share of GDP, which he calls key to staying competitive in areas of emerging technology…

“We want the technologies to develop, because we want to improve safety and efficiency and sustainability. But selfishly, we also want this technology to develop here and improve our economy,” Caldwell says.
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Green terminal to open at Pittsburgh International Airport

July 6, 2021
Posted in News

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) has announced that it will be the first airport terminal in the world powered by its own microgrid of thousands of solar panels, combined with natural gas sourced from land at the site.

A group of Pittsburgh-based tech firms alongside technology institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh will support the development of the terminal, dubbed the Terminal Modernization Program (TMP).
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EPA Can Maximize Fuel Savings of Partially Automated Vehicles

July 5, 2021
Posted in News

To encourage automakers to design AVs that improve fuel efficiency, a good place to start is updating test protocols to detect and quantify such improvements. ACEEE’s new white paper recommends that EPA do the following:

Sort automated vehicle features into discrete groups based on capabilities.  For example, systems that work only on freeways and combine both LKA and ACC would be treated the same.

Not allow AV features primarily designed to improve safety, such as automatic emergency braking, to earn off-cycle credits.

Design test protocols for each eligible group of AV features.

Design test protocols for features that are already market available or expected to be sold within 3 years.

Award credits based on how often AV features are actually used. EPA should estimate this value and use real-world data for AV features that have already been introduced into the market.
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It’s so hot in Portland that transit power cables are melting

July 2, 2021
Posted in News

Oregon’s Portland Streetcar was forced to suspend transit service on Sunday because the “insane, bonkers, and incredible” heat dome boiling the Pacific Northwest is apparently melting streetcar power cables.

It hit 112 degrees in Portland on Sunday and is expected to reach 114 degrees Monday, as the heatwave lingers in the region. The streetcar shutdown will continue through Monday. Climate experts are expressing alarm at the heat’s effects on infrastructure: “We have a climate crisis fueling cascading health, power, and transportation crises,” said Constantine Samaras, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s time to do something.”
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Pittsburgh International Airport to Open ‘Green’ Terminal by 2025

June 30, 2021
Posted in What's Happening

June 30, 2021

With the assistance of Carnegie Mellon University researchers, Pittsburgh International Airport announces Terminal Modernization Program, a state-of-the-art terminal powered by its own solar panel microgrid and natural gas sourced at the site.

Hyperdrive Daily: Lincoln Bills Its Cars as Driveway Sanctuaries

June 29, 2021
Posted in News

For Apple and other tech behemoths that are diving into self-driving tech or have grand plans for their own cars, the push isn’t just about breaking into a new market — it’s about defending valuable turf, Bloomberg’s Reed Stevenson and Mark Gurman write. Americans were behind the wheel for 307.8 hours in 2016, or around six hours a week, according to the latest available data from the American Automobile Association. That’s a fair bit of time not spent using iPhone apps or searching on Google.

“Even for companies like Apple and Google, this is a massive market,” said Raj Rajkumar, who leads the robotics institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “CFOs and CEOs literally drool, since first movers are likely to have a major edge. Each of these companies wants to be the predator, and not become the prey.”
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Metro21 Podcast Features Sean Qian to Discuss “Integrating and Learning from Mobility Data”

June 29, 2021
Posted in What's Happening

June 29, 2021

Metro21 Executive Director Karen Lightman recently sat down with Mobility21 researcher Sean Qian to discuss how leveraging technology can provide resources to disadvantaged communities through transportation and mobility data.  Hear the full podcast here.

NSF Concludes Stage 1 of the Civic Innovation Challenge Event with Project Showcase

June 25, 2021
Posted in What's Happening

June 25, 2021

As Stage 1 winners of the National Science Foundation’s Civic Innovation Challenge, two Mobility21 UTC researchers were featured in the closing event film festival:

Trial lawyers, unions seen hobbling U.S. in race to beat China on driverless cars

June 23, 2021
Posted in News

While progress stalls in Congress, China is moving forward aggressively, Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said in an interview.

“They were initially stumbling and bumbling around and not making progress. But they’ve been improving and improving. Now there’s a lot of players in the Chinese market and a lot of money,” he said.

Hanging in limbo is a bipartisan bill that would create safety regulations for driverless vehicles and allow more testing. It also would improve financial incentives for U.S. manufacturers to invest in the development of automated vehicles by increasing the number they could sell.

Each manufacturer now can sell only 2,500 driverless vehicles to companies such as the ride-hailing service Lyft.

The limited fleet size does not give companies much of a return on investment in research and development to keep up with China, Mr. Rajkumar said.
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America’s Electric Vehicle Future

June 22, 2021
Posted in News

National Public Radio – On Point
President Biden took a spin in Ford’s new all electric F-150. American automakers say it’s not long before they’ll completely stop making cars that run on gas. Is this the turning point towards an all-electric future?

Jeremy J. Michalek, professor of mechanical engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Director of CMU’s Vehicle Electrification Group…

“This is an enormous change and it’s really a revolution. I mean, if you think about it, the past century we have relied almost entirely on petroleum for moving us around, moving people around, moving goods around. And we are at the beginning of an enormous change in how we power our vehicles.

“So, yes, a decade ago, electric vehicles, what was available was so limited. And so for such specific audiences now, with the introduction of the electric F-150 as an example, there’s whole new markets that have access to use these types of vehicles.
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Billionaire Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk Is Making An All-In Bet On Robot Air Taxis. Its Program Head Is Out In Disagreement Over It.

June 18, 2021
Posted in News

The current version of Heaviside appears to have impressive energy efficiency indeed: in a paper that has yet to be published, Carnegie Mellon engineering professor Venkat Viswanathan and his graduate student Shashank Sripad estimate that the aircraft is more efficient than an electric car with one occupant at ranges greater than 20 miles, and significantly better than the aircraft Joby and Beta are test-flying, as well as proposed designs from Germany’s Lilium and the Bay Area startup Archer Aviation, based on current battery technology.

If Kitty Hawk succeeds in convincing regulators to allow its planned aircraft to operate without pilots in the cockpit, it could have a substantial cost advantage over competitors. Piloted urban air taxis could have double the costs of autonomous ones, McKinsey consultants Uri Pelli and Robin Riedel estimated in a paper last year.
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Will charging electric cars ever be as fast as pumping gas?

June 16, 2021
Posted in News

New research may be pushing these super batteries closer to reality. Recently, a team led by Harvard University materials scientist Xin Li designed a solid state lithium metal battery cell that uses several different layers of materials in the electrode to arrest lithium dendrite growth. In the journal Nature, the team described a prototype battery that could be charged in just three minutes, while retaining more than 80 percent of its capacity after 10,000 cycles. (Typical EV batteries degrade by a similar amount after 1,000 to 2,000 cycles.)

The research is still at an early stage. The team needs to demonstrate that the battery, currently the size of a coin, can be scaled up and mass-produced for automobiles.

Li says that a commercial version of this battery may be possible in about five years “if everything goes right.”

If the advantages of lithium metal can be harnessed, says Venkat Viswanathan, an engineer at Carnegie Mellon University whose lab also develops next-generation batteries,“a lot of the assumptions that you have made in terms of fast charging actually go out the window.”
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An atomic look at lithium-rich batteries

June 15, 2021
Posted in News

The electrification of heavy-duty vehicles and aircraft requires batteries with more energy density. A team of researchers believes a paradigm shift is necessary to make a significant impact in battery technology for these industries. This shift would take advantage of the anionic reduction-oxidation mechanism in lithium-rich cathodes. Findings published in Nature mark the first time direct observation of this anionic redox reaction has been observed in a lithium-rich battery material.

Collaborating institutions included Carnegie Mellon University, Northeastern University, Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT) in Finland, and institutions in Japan including Gunma University, Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (JASRI), Yokohama National University, Kyoto University, and Ritsumeikan University…

“We have conclusive evidence in support of the anionic redox mechanism in a lithium-rich battery material,” said Venkat Viswanathan, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “Our study provides a clear picture of the workings of a lithium-rich battery at the atomic scale and suggests pathways for designing next-generation cathodes to enable electric aviation.
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Infrastructure talks stuck on EVs, clean energy

June 14, 2021
Posted in News

The price of installing a charging station depends on a range of factors — including hardware, permitting and electrical grid capacity — making it difficult even for industry players to assess the cost of a charging network, according to a recent RMI study.

But assuming a ballpark estimate of $100,000 per fast charging station, the Republican offer could potentially fund 40,000 chargers, said Costa Samaras, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who researches energy and climate policy.

By comparison, he said, the United States has about 150,000 gas stations, each with multiple pumps.

“It’s a good start, but we’re going to need more,” Samaras said of the $4 billion charging station proposal. “We’re at the early stages of a major transition to clean electric vehicles in the U.S., but we need a policy push to get things started. The huge scale of the challenge, and the opportunity, requires a proportional policy response.”
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Self-Driving Cars Could Be Decades Away, No Matter What Elon Musk Said

June 9, 2021
Posted in News

A growing number of experts suggest that the path to full autonomy isn’t primarily AI-based after all. Engineers have solved countless other complicated problems—including landing spacecraft on Mars—by dividing the problem into small chunks, so that clever humans can craft systems to handle each part. Raj Rajkumar, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University with a long history of working on self-driving cars, is optimistic about this path. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.

This is the primary strategy Waymo has pursued to get its autonomous shuttles on the road, and as a result, “we don’t think that you need full AI to solve the driving problem,” says Mr. Fairfield.

Mr. Urmson of Aurora says that his company combines AI with other technologies to come up with systems that can apply general rules to novel situations, as a human would.
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Tesla drops radar sensors from cars. But how safe is camera-based autopilot system ‘Tesla Vision’?

June 8, 2021
Posted in News

Most automakers and self-driving vehicle companies such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo use three types of sensors: Cameras, radar and lidar.

Radar systems, like cameras, are relatively inexpensive. They work in poor weather but lack resolution to accurately determine the shape of objects. Lidar has higher resolution, but is vulnerable to weather conditions.

“You need to use all the different kinds of sensors and then combine them,” said Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, reflecting a common industry view.

Tesla’s camera-centric system is “much harder to design, but it is also much cheaper” than Waymo’s laser-based lidar approach, enabling the electric car maker to scale up and further improve its technology, Tesla’s artificial intelligence director, Andrej Karpathy, said in a “Robot Brains” podcast in March.
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‘The opportunity is here, but the threats are real’: Officials push for state support of Hazelwood Green to keep tech innovations in Pittsburgh

June 8, 2021
Posted in News

Regional leaders got to show off progress in the development of the Hazelwood Green complex to a team of state senators Thursday, including demonstrations in a self-driving car and rides on electric scooters.

But the high-level tour came with a message for members of the Senate Transportation Committee: The state needs to take steps to ensure technology developed at that site leads to the manufacturing of products and development of industries in this area rather than elsewhere across the country…

Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria and chairman of the transportation committee, said supporting transportation industries is part of a package of bills he proposed this week to deal with transportation funding. Some of those bills will be discussed by the committee as early as next week.

“We can grow this industry here if we do it right,” he said.
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Explainer: Are electric vehicles really better for the environment?

May 31, 2021
Posted in News

This chart below plots dozens of vehicles against greenhouse gas emissions. The black dots are gasoline vehicles; The pink and red dots are hybrid vehicles; The yellow dots are battery electric vehicles. The dotted lines are where the U.S. wants vehicle carbon emissions to be by 2030 and 2040…

But the vehicle itself is not the entire story.

It also depends on where you’re getting your charging power from. If you’re plugging your electric vehicle into a coal-heavy power grid, it can actually be worse — especially if you’re driving a hybrid.

“Coal tends to be the critical factor,” said Jeremy Michalek, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University told the New York Times. “If you’ve got electric cars in Pittsburgh that are being plugged in at night and leading nearby coal plants to burn more coal to charge them, then the climate benefits won’t be as great, and you can even get more air pollution.”
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