Why Smart Cities are About More Than Just Tech

September 16, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

September 9, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

September 7, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

The space race for our cellphones

September 2, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 23, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

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

August 23, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

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

August 17, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

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

August 16, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

Hajra Shahab – Traffic21 Women In Transportation 2020 – 2022 Fellow, Graduates

August 16, 2022
Posted in What's Happening

August 16, 2022

Hajra joined Carnegie Mellon University’s MSPPM-DA program in 2020 as a transportation fellow for Traffic21 Institute. Reflecting on her time as a student of Heinz College, she feels honored to have had the opportunity to become a part of the CMU community and be surrounded by some of the best minds under one roof. For someone who deeply cares about how their work impacts society, Hajra says Heinz College turned out to be a perfect fit where she was constantly reflecting and exploring impact of different technological breakthroughs on society at large and how to maximize their social benefits. Her coursework, projects and research mostly centered around transportation and mobility that constantly opened up multiple pathways, especially within the autonomous mobility space which landed her an internship at Aurora, a self-driving vehicle technology company. Since then, she has started to critically understand autonomous driving technology and was able to further expand her research to multi-modal transportation systems including autonomous delivery robots through her research assistantship in the Civil Engineering Department at CMU.

Joining CMU as a Traffic21 fellow truly set the foundation of every milestone that I achieved in graduate school. With the help of this fellowship, I was not only able to explore opportunities on-campus within the space of transportation and mobility, but also assume leadership roles on multiple occasions and carry out multiple community-led initiatives for Pittsburgh community at large.”

Upon graduation, Hajra joined EBP-US as a Data Analyst- Transportation Economics focus and currently working with multiple DOTs, state agencies and other stakeholders to conduct mileage-based user fee socio-economic equity analysis, benefit-cost studies and cost optimization projects.

She hopes her work continues to improve the state of transportation and mobility by making it sustainable, equitable and accessible for communities across the globe.

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

August 12, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

RISS Robolaunch Hosts Special Seminar on STEM Outreach, Media & Robotics

August 11, 2022
Posted in What's Happening

August 10, 2022

The Robotics Institute Summer Scholars (RISS) RoboLaunch program hosted a special seminar on STEM Outreach, Media & Robotics, “Can Hollywood Help Save Math Education?” with Dr. Michael Milford.  The discussion focused on leveraging and partnering with media to drive exclusive STEM outreach.  View the conversation here.

Pilot Programs Aim to Address Gaps in Transportation Access

July 18, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

Pittsburgh’s RoadBotics just got acquired by Michelin

July 15, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

Tesla’s high-profile Autopilot executive departs

July 15, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

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

July 5, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 5, 2022
Posted in News

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

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

Work Zones Cause Crashes—but Only Sometimes

June 29, 2022
Posted in News

Road construction zones are a headache for drivers and a hazard for workers, but, when it comes to safety, a new study suggests the likelihood of crashes increases when the work zones are long, the roads are busy, and the time is during daylight hours.

The study by a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, which was published in the journal Analytic Methods in Accident Research, provided new insights into a common problem for transportation agencies, said Sean Qian, one of the study’s authors and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

For years, he explained, transportation officials have observed that crashes increase in road construction zones. That would make sense given the amount of disruption that work zones cause, including new traffic patterns, narrower lanes and the nearby construction activity.

Pennsylvania Study Looks at Work Zone Crashes, Risk Factors

June 28, 2022
Posted in News

New research from the Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), found that work zones more than 1.8 miles long could increase crash risks; and that road work scheduled for night hours do not increase crash risks.

“So far, we cannot say what mitigation efforts can lead to the safest work zones; this will be our next step. But this provides insights on under what conditions a work zone can lead to more crashes, and when a work zone does not,” said Sean Qian, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Mobility Data Analytics Center…

If lengthy work zones on heavily traveled roads have shown increased accident risk during day hours, transportation officials may want to consider steps to make these work zones safer as a result, say researchers.

Self-driving cars crash, too, but figuring out what it means requires much better data

June 24, 2022
Posted in News

“The data released today is a good start, but it doesn’t provide an apples-to-apples comparison of advanced vehicle safety,” National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a statement. “What NHTSA provided was a ‘fruit bowl’ of data with a lot of caveats, making it difficult for the public and experts alike to understand what is being reported. Independent analysis of the data is key to identifying any safety gaps and potential remedies.”

But given the wide disparity between each company’s abilities to obtain and verify crash reports, the data is likely to remain unstandardized for quite some time.

“Standardization would be premature,” said Raj Rajkumar, a professor of computer and electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “Just the ‘catch-all’ policy where carmakers are required to report all ADAS incidents captures the core information.”

Global clean energy forum to be held in Pittsburgh

June 21, 2022
Posted in News

Pittsburgh will be the site of the inaugural Global Clean Energy Action Forum from Sept. 21-23 with an audience and participants that will come from all over the world.

The forum is a convening of the 13th Clean Energy Ministerial and the 7th Mission Innovation Ministerial, plus private sector, government, nongovernmental and educational leaders. The event, which is hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, was announced in November 2021. It will be focused on Rapid Innovation and Deployment of clean energy technologies in power generation, fuel, transportation, buildings and other industries.

Data likely shows Teslas on Autopilot crash more than rivals

June 21, 2022
Posted in News

In a June 2021 order, NHTSA told more than 100 automakers and automated vehicle tech companies to report serious crashes within one day of learning about them and to disclose less-serious crashes by the 15th day of the following month…

Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies automated vehicles, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Tesla was found to have had a high number of crashes involving its driver-assist systems. Tesla, based in Austin, Texas, stopped using radar in its system and instead relies solely on cameras and computers — a system that Rajkumar calls “inherently unsafe.”

The system’s computer, he said, can recognize only what’s in its memory. Flashing lights on an emergency vehicle, Rajkumar said, might confuse the system, as would anything that the computer hasn’t seen before.

“Emergency vehicles may look very different from all the data that the Tesla software had been trained on,” he said.

To convince more drivers to go electric, the Biden administration wants chargers that work for all EVs

June 17, 2022
Posted in News

On Thursday, the administration proposed rules that would, among other things, mean that any charging station built with federal money must accommodate any electric car…

That infrastructure has improved a lot. But there are still real barriers, especially for anyone who doesn’t have a driveway, said Jeremy Michalek at Carnegie Mellon University. That was him when he first got an electric car.

“I could not count on being able to charge it every day,” he said. “It depended if I got the spot in front of my house or not. And I had to run an extension cord up the stairs to plug it in.”

Kind of a hard sell. “If you don’t have off-street parking, you need to know that you are going to have access to public chargers and be able to reliably charge your vehicle,” Michalek said — both near your home and along the highway.

All signs point to a ‘growing appetite’ for digital twins: report

June 15, 2022
Posted in News

There is a “growing appetite” for digital twin technology across all major sectors, including smart cities, according to the report, particularly as organizations seek to digitize and improve their operations. The growing pressure among cities and corporations to decrease emissions is also accelerating the pace of such digital innovation, it states…

Karen Lightman, executive director of the Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, also cautioned city leaders against falling for the technology’s “hype,” particularly as the definition of a digital twin can vary widely.

The technology does offer many possible upsides to smart cities for certain applications, according to Lightman, who said she’s most excited about its use cases around transportation and physical infrastructure. But before they turn to the technology, she advised local leaders to first “really focus on what is the problem you are trying to solve.”

Carnegie Mellon University awarded $10.5M Army contract to study aircraft flaws

June 14, 2022
Posted in News

Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Auton Lab recently signed a three-year, $10.5 million U.S. Army contract to use artificial intelligence (AI) tools to provide early warning of emerging aircraft flaws and eventually apply this knowledge to other predictive maintenance, including medicine.

The Army hopes AI can be used to solve problems associated with complex devices, including combat and non-combat equipment. It also aims to make this AI approach more accessible for various public and private applications.

“The idea behind this is to take the AI capabilities to the next level,” Artur Dubrawski, CMU’s Robotics Institute alumni research professor of computer science and Auton Lab director, said.

Researchers will address gaps in knowledge and technology. Work also will be performed at Georgia Tech Research Institute, the University of South Carolina, and the University of California.

The Pittsburgh-based U.S. Army AI Integration Center will coordinate the application of the developed technology in military equipment maintenance.

How Much Better Are Electric Cars for the Environment?

June 13, 2022
Posted in News

Jeremy Michalek, a professor with Carnegie Mellon University, who directs the Vehicle Electrification Group, told Newsweek that electric vehicles in the United States tend to have lower carbon footprints on average than gasoline or diesel cars, although there are exceptions.

One 2016 study authored by Michalek and colleagues contains maps showing that in general, “plug-in vehicles tend to reduce carbon emissions for city drivers in the Southwest, Texas and Florida, especially when compared to a typical gasoline car, whereas plug-in vehicles tend to increase carbon emissions for highway drivers in rural counties of the Great Planes, the Midwest and the South, especially when compared to gasoline hybrids, which are very efficient,” he said.

“These maps are from the past, however. EVs have an advantage going into the future. As the power grid gets cleaner, as we expect it to, EVs will get cleaner as well. The most important factor for electric vehicle life cycle emissions is coal retirement. The more coal that retires, the cleaner EVs look.”