Pittsburgh’s top driverless carmakers are pivoting to trucks. What does that mean for driverless cars’ future?

September 19, 2023
Posted in News

Bryan Salesky, Peter Rander and Brett Browning, all industry veterans and former leaders of the Pittsburgh robotaxi company Argo AI, are some of the brightest minds in autonomous vehicle development.

Their pivot from self-driving cars to self-driving trucks is the latest sign of how difficult it is to fully take our hands off the wheel, industry experts and researchers said.

“It is becoming more and more evident that automating trucks and transportation on highways is a more realistic goal for AVs than solving the general urban traffic automation problem,” said Dimi Apostolopoulos, senior scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and the National Robotics Engineering Center…

Experts say a commitment to safety will be a key part of future regulatory approvals and positive public perception…

“The safety problem is receiving a lot of attention in autonomous driving, but so far a definitive solution has not emerged,” said John Dolan, a principal scientist at the CMU Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research. The problem is especially acute for trucks given their size and momentum and the damage they can cause in accidents, he said.

Addressing School Transportation Challenges

September 8, 2023
Posted in News

As the 2023-24 school year begins, students, parents, and school staff all understandably have many things on their minds. One thing that has become a consistent worry, especially since the pandemic, is an ongoing crisis in the school transportation system, spurred mostly from a constant shortage of school bus drivers. The Pennsylvania School Bus Association recently reported that, across the state, transportation providers are 3,500 drivers short. Allies for Children continues to address school transportation challenges, making sure that all students who need transportation are able to get to school…

In June of 2022, a Joint Commission of the PA General Assembly released a report to address the overall student transportation system…

All of the report’s recommendations have been summarized here by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Allies for Children’s work has been focused on developing regional transportation routes for charter and non-public school systems. Under such a system, students living in adjacent school districts would be transported on shared bus routes, reducing the overall number of drivers needed to transport these students to charter and non-public schools. We are continuing to work on enacting a model of regional transportation routes with partners at Carnegie Mellon University and several Allegheny County School Districts.

USDOT Deputy Secretary meets CMU transportation researchers

September 6, 2023
Posted in News

U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg visited Carnegie Mellon University facilities at Mill 19 on August 21 to meet with transportation researchers and officials to discuss how their research, development, and deployment (RD&D) initiatives will impact mobility.

Carnegie Mellon is working closely with the USDOT to transform the U.S. transportation system through research that focuses on safety, economic growth, climate and sustainability, and equity.

This spring, Carnegie Mellon was awarded $20 million over the next five years from the USDOT to lead Safety21, a University Transportation Center (UTC). This center focuses on the USDOT’s chief concern—safety. Safety21, which includes partners from across the country, aims to develop and deploy autonomous, networked, and integrated transportation technologies and systems with safety and equity in mind.

Carnegie Mellon has a long history of innovation in transportation, and Safety21 is CMU’s fourth University Transportation Center since 2012. CMU will complete its third UTC focused on mobility, Mobility21 this fall. The university serves to bring together the federal, private, and nonprofit sectors to provide research and other input to help the USDOT achieve its strategic goals.

San Francisco Launches Driverless Bus Service Following Robotaxi Expansion

August 29, 2023
Posted in News

San Francisco has launched an autonomous shuttle service — less than a week after California regulators approved the expansion of robotaxis despite traffic and safety concerns…

“Trained operators are going to be required even as we increase automation,” said Nikolas Martelaro, autonomous-vehicle researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. “So the question there may not be how worried should someone be about losing their job versus what should they be thinking about the potential training that’s required.”

Autonomous driving technology could make buses safer, but requiring drivers or attendants on-board could undermine one of their perceived advantages: reduced labor costs.

“We still have to find a market for them,” said Art Guzzetti, vice president at the American Public Transportation Association. “We’re doing it to make the trip better, more efficient, not to take the worker’s job.”

Mustang Mach-E probe reveals electric vehicle adoption issues

August 28, 2023
Posted in News

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Monday that the agency is currently looking into Ford’s 2022 recall of 49,000 Mustang Mach-E EVs…

But the core of this investigation – EV battery sensitivity to fast charging – represents a “potentially bigger hurdle” to broad EV adoption, according to Jeremy Michalek, Carnegie Mellon professor of engineering and public policy. Though the issue isn’t “universal,” it does reach beyond the Mustang Mach-E, Michalek said in an interview with TheStreet.

“Some battery chemistries are very robust to fast charging while others degrade very quickly. So it does depend what kind of battery the electric vehicle has in it, how sensitive it will be to fast charging,” he said. “But there are batteries being used today that are sensitive to fast charging and will degrade the battery much more quickly.”

FHWA Awards Nearly $9M for Innovative Highway, Bridge Work

August 25, 2023
Posted in News

The Federal Highway Administration has awarded a total of $8.8 million to eight states and the District of Columbia for demonstration projects that propose to use state-of-the-art technologies for highway and bridge infrastructure durability, safety and asset management. The awards, announced Aug. 22, went to 10 projects and come from FHWA’s Accelerated Innovation Deployment Demonstration program, known as AID…

Dr. Chris Hendrickson, an emeritus professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said via email, “Pursuing innovation is essential to make transportation more cost-effective and efficient.”

Hendrickson added that the AID program “is critical funding to incentivize and reinforce a new innovation culture in state DOTs.”

He also said that besides the FHWA program, State Transportation Innovation Councils are promoting advances in the field,

For example, Hendrickson noted that the council in Pennsylvania “has enabled a fast track for scaling innovations identified by state employees, industry and academia.”

Battle Lines Drawn over Automotive Data Collection

August 23, 2023
Posted in News

As July came to a close, the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA) announced that it was launching a review of the data protection regimes, or lack thereof, covering assisted driving systems…

Yet some observers, like Choudhuri, see this as an opportunity for such businesses rather than a burden. “While initial reactions might view these regulations as cumbersome or barriers to innovation, they can serve as catalysts…

They should be careful, however, because customers can be sensitive to practices seen as financially exploitative. Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, pointed out: “There is a ton of value in tracking user habits for marketing purposes. It is hard to imagine that this value will go untapped within cars. However, carmakers and their suppliers need to respect privacy and only use versions that filter out user identities. Else, there will be a backlash at some time or the other.”

Fujitsu to take expanded presence at new Avenu Workspaces coworking set up in Oakland

August 15, 2023
Posted in News

Fujitsu, a publicly traded Japanese company with more than 120,000 employees worldwide, is working to ramp up its presence in Pittsburgh.

The company has committed to being the first new tenant in a new Avenu Workspaces location at 115 Atwood St., where it can spread out in triple the size of its initial location with Avenu at its Meyran Avenue space, a relatively short walk away in the heart of Oakland.

The new space will be bigger for Fujitsu, but specific details on the amount of space the lease will be were not provided in an announcement about the move by InnovatePGH, which operates the Avenu coworking spaces.

According to the organization, Fujitsu has been collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University through its Mobility Data Analytics Center and Computational Behavior Lab. The company is involved with projects through the two labs to evaluate measures to control traffic flow as well as to model how pedestrians behave in urban environments.

How to Find the Cheapest Ride-Sharing Option

August 14, 2023
Posted in News

That got me thinking: Maybe I could benefit from some advice on how to use ride-hailing services — and save money.

I asked academics, travelers and ride-hailing experts. And much like the ride-hailing industry itself, the answers I received were all over the map…

“The best strategy today is to have access to many services and to use each one when it best fits your trip needs,” says Stan Caldwell, executive director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 Institute, which focuses on transportation issues.

For example, he says savvy travelers should consider using Uber or Lyft to get from home to a transit hub. Or they should use the ride-hailing services late at night when mass transit isn’t running.

On other trips, a Zipcar rental or even a bike share or scooter might be more appropriate.

Electric vehicle owners in Pittsburgh find creative ways to charge up as the city adjusts to shifting transportation trends

August 9, 2023
Posted in News

Recently, a team that includes Corey Harper, an assistant civil and environmental engineering professor at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Information Systems and Public Policy, received a grant from the Department of Energy to do research on EV charging infrastructure.

“We saw that, right now, in Pittsburgh, a lot of the charges are located in areas where there are either a lot of shops near the schools, or the Downtown area,” he explains to City Paper, referring primarily to the neighborhoods surrounding CMU and the University of Pittsburgh. “So, you know, pretty well-off areas.”

Harper explains that his DoE-funded research looks at creating “optimization tools” for cities, in this case, Pittsburgh and Seattle, to best determine where EV chargers should be located based on a number of factors.

Harper says that, while there’s a growing demand to adopt EV technology, Pittsburgh and other U.S. cities need to make the transition in an equitable way.

Study: Bridge tolling comes with questionable trade-offs

August 9, 2023
Posted in News

A case study of how traffic would change if a nominal toll were added to Girard Point Bridge in Philadelphia illustrates the trade-offs: PennDOT could raise significant revenue, but traffic time would increase — as would emissions.

The study, done for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, estimated a $1 toll on the bridge would bring in about $30,500 per day and $46,700 per day with a $2 toll during morning peak hours. Annually, those tolls would be $11.1 million and $17 million, respectively…

“We’re talking about how to make a good compromise among different stakeholders,” Sean Qian, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of the study, said. “PennDOT, I do see their perspective because it’s important to have extra revenue to fix the infrastructure. Especially for Pennsylvania, it’s a big challenge.”

Seven Automakers to Roll Out Massive EV Charger Network Next Year

August 8, 2023
Posted in News

BMW and six other major automakers plan to begin rolling out a massive North American network of high-powered electric vehicle (EV) chargers in mid-2024…

Early EV adopters often have a place to charge at home and own multiple vehicles, said Jeremy Michalek, professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering. “With the longer range of today’s EVs, they typically only need public chargers on long trips,” he said.

The primary problem is that Americans tend to take long trips at the same time around peak travel holidays, like Memorial Day or Thanksgiving, Michalek said.

“It’s going to be a challenge to deploy enough public charging infrastructure to avoid long queues on peak travel days, and if we do build enough for peak travel days a lot of it will sit unused much of the rest of the year,” he said.

“As EVs become more mainstream and move into used car markets, the other main problem is that households that lack off-street parking with residential charging will need to rely heavily on public charging infrastructure for everyday use,” he added.

Can Self-Driving Go Mainstream Within 10 Years? Watch This Debate

August 8, 2023
Posted in News

Billions are being invested in self-driving technology each year, and some question why it isn’t further along today, whether it can be really made to work and whether it can be a business that scales and makes profits for the many companies in the game.

To address these questions, I engaged this week in a formal debate. Taking the negative was Professor Raj Rajkumar from CMU. Raj was one of the team leaders when CMU won the DARPA Urban Challenge — the contest that really got the self-driving robocar world going.

For those who prefer, here is a transcript of my opening statement. For the rest you will need to go to the debate. In addition to the opening and rebuttals, there are 3 sub sections on:

Is Tesla’s approach viable at all?
What are the prospects for self-driving consumer vehicles?
What are the prospects for commercial services.

Grocery delivery is less sustainable than shopping in store

July 31, 2023
Posted in News

Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering researchers (CMU Research) released its latest findings looking at the impacts of grocery delivery on energy use, emissions, and traffic congestion — including whether there might be a better way to manage and optimize deliveries. What it found is that grocery delivery was less energy efficient than people shopping for products themselves.

The research aims to provide a new set of insights for organizations to integrate into ecommerce and grocery delivery trends for long-range, and more sustainable transportation planning.

The global pandemic created a surge of ecommerce purchases and online grocery delivery services out of necessity, and many of those fulfillment methods are still being used today.

“Right now, most people go to the grocery store on their way home from work, or during off-peak hours,” said Destenie Nock, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy.

A Leaked Tesla Report Shows the Cybertruck Had Basic Design Flaws

June 20, 2023
Posted in News

In May, the German newspaper Handelsblatt began reporting on the “Tesla Files”: thousands of internal documents provided to it by a whistleblower. Among those documents was an engineering report that might give some insight into why the vehicle has taken so long to come to market…

The unique styling of the truck, with its angular plates and stainless steel alloy construction, mean it’s not only hard to manufacture, but will probably be hard to repair, experts say.

Stainless steel is not easy to shape or mold, “Hence the look as if it’s the output of a student in an in-class ‘Pop Quiz Number 1’ for the course ‘Intro to Car Design,’” says Raj Rajkumar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. The material requires specialized welding techniques, and it doesn’t flex easily, which could be dangerous in a crash, when force usually absorbed by a “crumple zone” could be transferred to cabin occupants instead, Rajkumar says.

Charging blunts benefits of electric ride-hailing, study finds

June 20, 2023
Posted in News

Replacing all current ride-hailing vehicles with EVs would eliminate tailpipe emissions, but the overall benefit to society would still be slight—just 3% per trip on average—according to the study, which was published June 1 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

That’s due to other social costs associated with ride-hailing beyond emissions, including “increased traffic congestion, collision risk and noise due to Uber and Lyft drivers traveling to and from fast-charging stations,” a University of Michigan press release announcing the study results said…

This study reads essentially like a different version of the “deadhead miles” that are already an issue for ride-hailing, in which drivers still need to travel to the start of trips and from the end of them. It also appears to build on findings from Carnegie Mellon University researchers in 2021 suggesting that Uber and Lyft use leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion versus driving yourself.

CMU/Yale study suggests BEVS could be majority or near-majority of cars and SUVs by 2030 given technology trends

June 20, 2023
Posted in News

To understand mainstream consumer demand for future EVs, the team of researchers conducted consumer experiments eight years apart to determine what has driven the growth of the EV market and what it would take to increase future adoption.

They found that consumers’ preferences for vehicle attributes such as longer range and cheaper operation haven’t changed much, but that consumers are more willing to adopt EVs as technology improves. With expected range increases and price decreases, the team predicted that demand for electric cars and SUVs could be comparable to gasoline cars and SUVs by 2030.

The team includes Jeremy Michalek, a professor of mechanical engineering and engineering and public policy; Kate Whitefoot, an associate professor mechanical engineering and engineering and public policy; their Ph.D. student Connor Forsythe, and Ken Gillingham, an economics professor at Yale.

It’s the Features, Stupid: EV Market Share Is Growing Because the Vehicles Keep Getting Better

June 14, 2023
Posted in News

This finding, from a recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that the growth in demand for EVs is largely due to the appeal of the models’ technology and features, not a deeper attachment to the idea of owning an EV than in the past.

While some car buyers may indeed want an EV on principle—like many of the early adopters who helped the vehicles get their first couple of percentage points of market share—researchers report that the size of this group does not appear to have changed. Meanwhile, EVs made up 7.2 percent of the market for new cars and light trucks in the first quarter of this year, more than double the share from two years ago, according to the research arm of Cox Automotive.

Or, as another co-author of the study, the Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor Jeremy Michalek, puts it: “Consumers haven’t changed. It’s technology that’s driving EV adoption.”

Congresswoman Summer Lee and US DOT Announce Transportation Safety Research Grant at Carnegie Mellon University

June 5, 2023
Posted in What's Happening

May 30, 2023

Congresswoman Summer Lee announced on May 30 that Carnegie Mellon University will lead a national consortium that will receive $20 million over the next five years from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish Safety21, a new University Transportation Center (UTC).

The consortium includes partners from across the U.S. who will collaborate to ensure that autonomous, networked, shared, and integrated transportation technologies and systems are developed and deployed with safety, equity and sustainability in mind. Their work will bolster the nation’s competitive edge in domestic production and global leadership of these technologies and provide training for the transportation workforce.

The transportation sector of the U.S. economy is undergoing a revolution. In the past decade, advances in sensing technologies, computing power and wireless communications coupled with AI and machine learning are directly addressing the quality and quantity of the transport of people and goods. Electric vehicles are poised to overtake gasoline-powered cars, with more driver-assist safety features than ever. Yet, there are over 40,000 automotive fatalities per year in the U.S., mostly due to human error.

Technology promises much, but the state-of-the-art in highly automated vehicles is not mature enough for widespread deployment. Failures of autonomy features raise legitimate questions of trust, and connectivity presents new threats to privacy and cybersecurity. At this critical juncture, to remain competitive, domestic industry needs innovative technologies, policy frameworks and well-trained workers.

Congresswoman Summer Lee meets with faculty at Carnegie Mellon University.

To address these challenges, Safety21 will seek inclusive input from stakeholders, including communities, workers, users, vehicle manufacturers and researchers as it takes a holistic, system-of-systems approach to advancing connected and automated vehicle technologies and intelligent infrastructure.

“This award from the U.S. Department of Transportation affirms Carnegie Mellon’s long-established leadership in developing technology and informing policy to improve our nation’s transportation network. The impact of Safety21’s research will be expanded by the center’s intentional focus on equal access to safe and sustainable transportation for all communities,” said Farnam Jahanian, president of Carnegie Mellon.

Carnegie Mellon is leading the consortium that spans Morgan State University, The Ohio State University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The Community College of Allegheny County and the Community College of Philadelphia will receive support for innovative workforce programs tailored for the existing and emerging transportation workforce.

“Through Safety21, faculty and student researchers will capitalize on the opportunities and risks that automated and connected vehicles present. The knowledge they create will be shared with transportation managers, companies and community organizations, resulting in technology transfer and deployment,” said William H. Sanders, dean of CMU’s College of Engineering.

“Safety21 is yet another example of the important work we are doing at the critical nexus of technology and society,” said Ramayya Krishnan, dean of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. “As technological advancements in AI and electric vehicles continue to emerge, we must operate with a concentrated focus on the importance of safety, equity and the environment.”

Raj Rajkumar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, will lead Safety21. Rajkumar, who has earned global recognition for autonomous vehicle research, was the director of Carnegie Mellon’s last UTC, Mobility21. Safety21 will be the fourth UTC that Carnegie Mellon has managed since 2012.

“Safety21’s project portfolio will enhance transportation safety through research, development, and deployment of breakthrough technologies and policy innovations. Additionally, we seek to broaden our impact by ensuring communities have equal access to safety technologies; evaluating energy use and emissions; and supporting domestic commercialization, entrepreneurship, and public policy to rally economic strength and global competitiveness,” said Rajkumar.

Out of five National UTC grants awarded in 2023, Safety21 is the one national center with the theme of improving safety. UTC funding is authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

[Story by Sherry Stokes]


How self-driving cars and human-driven cars could share the road

May 31, 2023
Posted in News

Similar to when the first automobiles traveled alongside horses and buggies, autonomous vehicles (AVs) and human-driven vehicles (HVs) must someday share the same road. How to best manage this transition is the topic of a new Carnegie Mellon University policy brief, ‘Mixed-Autonomy Era of Transportation: Resilience & Autonomous Fleet Management.’ Carlee Joe-Wong, the Robert E. Doherty Career Development Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at CMU, shares her thoughts with AAVI on how this might play out…

Technology development continues to make driving safer as the auto industry pushes us toward eliminating human drivers. Who knows if humans will ever be totally out of the equation, but what is inevitable is that cars with varying levels of autonomous driving capacity will be sharing the roads. It would behoove us to get in front of this issue and learn what benefits can be derived from mixed autonomy on our highways, so that we can develop policies and regulatory structures that will keep people traveling safely and efficiently regardless of whether a person is behind the steering wheel or not.

Artificial Intelligence, Part 3: OK, it’s bad. But it’s also good, right?

May 9, 2023
Posted in News

Stephen Smith is a research professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. He worked on a team that developed an adaptive traffic signal network called Surtrac, which improves commutes during peak traffic times in Pittsburgh. AI systems collect real-time data on where cars are on the road to change the traffic light signals based on where traffic is the worst.

The city partnered with his team after a pilot program showed it improved traffic flow and reduced average travel times by 25%.

Not only does this reduce the number of headaches for commuters, but cars spend up to 40% less time idling, reducing that much more carbon emissions from the air.

“There are technologies out there that will adapt the traffic signals to the traffic, but they tend to be applied to more suburban corridors where you have a main drag and then maybe side streets,” Smith said. “The problem we’re solving is one where you have multiple competing, dominant flows that change throughout the day, so you can’t really decide in advance where your dominant flow is. The system has to recognize that in real-time.”

Republicans Cry Foul on Grants Going to Electric School Buses

May 8, 2023
Posted in News

Republicans say they envisioned the $5 billion in the infrastructure act for climate-friendlier school buses would replace older polluting diesel buses with a mix of ones that run on electricity, compressed natural gas or propane.

But nearly all of the first batch of funding the Environmental Protection Agency has given out to school districts around the country has gone to help schools buy electric buses, according to the agency’s data…

Experts and Democrats say districts are asking for electric buses in greater numbers because they cost less to operate than other kinds of buses and have a greater impact on the environment. And as the cost of batteries goes down, that will add to the savings that electric buses bring, said Chris Hendrickson, faculty director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic 21 transportation research institute.

Additionally, Hendrickson said, while buses that run on compressed natural gas or propane pollute less than those on diesel, they still use internal combustion engines that send greenhouse emissions into the air.

The Future of Transportation: The Role of Bike Lanes

May 8, 2023
Posted in News

Bike lanes have a significant impact on traffic, both in terms of reducing congestion and improving safety. By providing a dedicated space for cyclists, bike lanes can help to reduce the number of cars on the road, which in turn can reduce traffic congestion. More protected lanes means more people leaving cars at home and opting to cycle, which is a win-win.

“The big takeaways are that micromobility could decrease congestion, especially on highly congested corridors. But you’re going to need wide-scale bike lane deployment,” said Corey Harper, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the authors of a key micromobility study.

Additionally, they can improve safety by separating cyclists from motor vehicles, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. Studies have shown that cities with well-designed bike networks have lower rates of traffic fatalities and injuries.

New electric vehicle tax credit rules aim to reduce dependence on China, but present new obstacles

May 8, 2023
Posted in News

The $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit in the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed in August, doesn’t limit the number of credits, but ruled out the full $7,500 credit for new EVs assembled outside North America.

In April, the Treasury Department, writing regulations for the law, narrowed the tax credit eligibility further. The regulations require that a certain percentage of the components and minerals in car batteries be sourced from the U.S. or in countries that are U.S. trade allies.

Limiting the tax credit is meant to encourage EV component supply chains, which China now dominates, to shift toward the U.S. and its allies, said Jeremy Michalek, director of the Vehicle Electrification Group at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh…

Michalek said he expects the new regulations to slow EV sales temporarily. Slowik and Brinley said they don’t expect the new tax credit regulations to slow EV sales, because the manufacturing increase will make more vehicles eligible for the credits and because demand for EVs remains high.

Take care in the cone zone

April 28, 2023
Posted in News

Traffic slows in construction zones for a reason. Construction vehicles often pull onto and off highways, and here workers and heavy equipment operate sometimes just feet from the open lanes of travel.

Drivers have to be alert when traveling through a work zone, and that means allowing enough distance between vehicles so a sudden stop can be made without a collision. That’s especially true in longer work zones — research conducted by the college of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation shows that work zones more than 1.8 miles long could increase crash risks. The study also showed that road work conducted during the night does not increase the risk of accidents.