eTrans Systems, George Mason University Win Fairfax County Transportation and Mobility Hackathon

Jennifer van der Kleut

Teams from Fairfax, Virginia’s eTrans Systems and students from George Mason University’s College of Science led the winners of the Fairfax County Government’s first Transportation and Mobility Hackathon.

Held just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the contest encouraged teams to present innovative solutions to pressing problems such as traffic, congestion, public safety, advancing of connected and automated vehicle technology, and increasing mobility for senior and disabled citizens.

Submissions were judged over many criteria, including potential for scalability and widespread adoption, use of a diverse set of data in its design and approach, the potential for the biggest impact on local safety and quality of life, and how easily organizations could partner to implement the process.

eTrans Systems presented the idea for the E-Walk smartphone application, which would connect the user to traffic infrastructure and nearby connected vehicles in real time. The application would not only help the average cyclist or pedestrian as they approach traffic intersections, but would significantly improve safety for the disabled and visually impaired, who have a tough time finding that crosswalk button or being able to tell if vehicles or other humans are coming in their direction.

As the first-place winner of the Hackathon, eTrans Systems was awarded $3,000 by the Fairfax County Government for further work in developing the E-Walk app.

Runners-up included second-place winners All Traffic Solutions and third-place winners Qlarion.

The top winners in the student category, the team from George Mason University (GMU), presented their artificial-intelligence-driven early crash warning system, which won them a $1,500 prize.

Other entrants included Go Together, Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Tech, Fluxity, Edge360 and Old Dominion University.

See video of many of the pitch presentations on the Fairfax County Government’s Hackathon web page.

Image via Pixabay

News Roundup: Waymo Gets Patent For Exterior Airbags On Self-Driving Cars, Ford to Test ‘Cellular-V2X’ Tech in San Diego and More

Jennifer van der Kleut


Waymo granted patent for exterior airbags

Google’s self-driving car spinoff company, Waymo, has been granted a patent for an airbag system that would be located on the outside of a car. Since self-driving cars are outfitted with sensors, cameras, radar and lidar on the outside of the car, Waymo engineers argue that the car itself can predict an accident even sooner than a human driver can (or can’t, if he or she is distracted). The concept of exterior airbags could protect passengers in the vehicle from an impact, as well as “reduce the likelihood of severe injuries or damage to objects such as pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, other vehicles, or simply inanimate objects.” Read more from Silicon Beat.


Mcity autonomous vehicle testing ground gets big investment from automakers, corporations

Mcity, the University of Michigan’s testing ground for autonomous vehicles, has received a total of $11 million in funding from 11 different companies, both corporations and automakers. Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda all contributed about $1 million each, and other corporations like State Farm Insurance, Verizon, LG and others. Mcity is a 32-acre man-made “city” where companies can conduct research and test autonomous vehicles. The hub offers a number of varied conditions for vehicles to test in, such as different road conditions, four-lane highways, high-pedestrian streets featuring fake, mechanical pedestrians, and much more. Read more from


Ford partnering with AT&T, Qualcomm and Nokia to test ‘cellular-V2X’ technology

Ford Motor Co. announced this week that it has formed a partnership with Qualcomm, AT&T and Nokia to test cellular modems that can connect vehicles to each other and to roadside infrastructure to help better navigate in bad weather or construction zones. “Cellular-V2X” technology, as it is called, aims to connect vehicles with traffic lights, roadside beacons and other vehicles on the road to share real-time information about driving conditions. It’s meant to improve safety, as well as help speed up the deployment of self-driving vehicles. Testing is scheduled to take place in San Diego, California before the end of the year. For testing, Ford vehicles will be outfitted with Qualcomm hardware powered by AT&T’s 4G LTE cellular network and Nokia’s computing technology. Read more from Automotive News.

Image: Rendering of self-driving minivan with exterior airbags by Waymo

Will Driverless Cars Usher in a Real Estate Building Boom?

Jennifer van der Kleut

The Center for Real Estate Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a report this week that has industry analysts and media outlets buzzing. Will a shift toward autonomous vehicles over the next decade or two spur a real estate boom, as garages are leveled to make way for more housing and office buildings, and sidewalks are widened to encourage more walking?

The report, entitled “Real Estate Trends: The Future of Real Estate in the United States,” which was sponsored by Capital One Bank, features research on a number of trends relevant to the advent of the technology and its potential impact on real estate across the nation, including housing affordability and inventory, fluctuations in home values, demographics and more, as well as the current boom taking place in the Internet of Things (IoT) industry.

As industry analysts predict that the advent of autonomous cars will bring about a decline in personal car ownership and a subsequent rise in fleet companies that offer ride-hailing services in driverless cars (which a number of companies are currently working on, including General Motors, Uber and others), they predict it will dramatically change the shape of both urban and suburban landscapes.

With less of a need for parking garages–as, presumably, autonomous fleets will pretty much run rides 24/7–the report predicts many inner-city parking garages will become obsolete, and perhaps actually be demolished to make way for much-needed additional housing.

They also predict sidewalks will be widened; with less of a need for on-street parking, designated “drop-off zones” for autonomous fleet cars will be created instead. Widened sidewalks will encourage more walking by pedestrians who can now live in the increased downtown housing and walk to work or to shopping and restaurants.

“Developers are already starting to target parking structures, gas stations and auto dealerships, betting that they’ll be able to redevelop the sites as car ownership becomes obsolete, said Rick Palacios, director of research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting,” reporters at Bloomberg News quoted this week, in response to the report.

Suburbs won’t go away, though–if they don’t have to fight traffic driving into the city themselves anymore, the MIT report predicts that people will still enjoy living in quieter residential neighborhoods and enjoying a relaxing commute to work every day in an autonomous car, when they can nap, get a jump-start on work or watch TV while their robot taxi keeps an eye on the road.

Rick Palacios authored an article in September that expanded on some of the predictions about how autonomous cars will reshape cities and affect real estate.

He pointed out that increased availability of autonomous ride-hailing would also allow senior citizens and the disabled to age at home longer, which would slow home sales to a certain point, but would then be off-set by the building boom of new housing he mentioned to Bloomberg. In addition, he predicts industries like general contracting and home remodeling may get a boost as people retrofit homes to accommodate seniors and disabled persons living at home longer.

Palacios even suggests that home contracting prices may go down, as transportation costs for shipping materials are reduced. He predicts humans will also enjoy lower personal transportation costs, as hailing robot taxis will cost much less than the regular maintenance and up-keep of owning a car, paying for the insurance on it and filling it with gas (especially if a shift toward autonomous cars also means a shift toward electric cars).

Read the entire report from MIT’s Center for Real Estate Research here.

Image: Pixabay

News Roundup: U.S. Senate Approves Driverless Car Bill, Federal Government Gives State Millions For Automated Taxi Service, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Driverless car bill passes in the U.S. Senate

Members of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a bill similar to one already passed in the House of Representatives that will presumably help clear the way for driverless car technology to move forward. The bill keeps approval of driver’s licenses, regulation of insurance and enforcement of traffic laws within the states’ purview, but places oversight of the design and manufacture of driverless vehicles in the hands of the federal government–specifically the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Like the House bill, the Senate bill also permits Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to hand individual auto manufacturers exemptions from federal safety standards for up to 100,000 vehicles per year while they are fine-tuning their technology; and it also places responsibility with tech designers to protect their vehicles from cyber attacks. Read more from the Washington Post. 


Federal government giving South Carolina county millions for driverless taxis?

According to a news report from a USA Today-affiliated regional newspaper, the federal government has pledged millions of dollars toward the development of a driverless taxi service in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville Online says $4 million has been pledged to help develop the nation’s first automated taxi service in Greenville County. In a news conference Thursday, county officials announced the first test vehicle will be deployed on the Clemson University campus, in connection with the college’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). While the test vehicle is only the size of a golf cart, officials said the program’s expansion will feature typical-size vehicles, as well as possible non-emergency medical vehicles for senior and disabled residents. A group called the Global Autonomous Vehicle Partnership is matching funds to help the development of the autonomous vehicles. Read more from Greenville Online.


Driverless startup hires execs away from Google’s Waymo, Microsoft

Driverless vehicle startup Nauto is fresh off a monster round of funding, and is already looking to expand its business both locally and globally. In a first step toward that goal, the startup announced this week that it has hired executives from Microsoft, and Google Alphabet’s self-driving car spinoff, Waymo. Waymo’s former head of business, Jennifer Haroon, has joined Nauto as its new vice-president of corporate development and business operations. Microsoft’s former vice-president of global enterprise sales, Sanket Akerkar, joins Nauto as its new senior vice-president of global fleets and insurance. Nauto most recently raised $159 million in funding from a number of major firms, and already has several lucrative partnerships in place with auto manufacturers such as General Motors, BMW and Toyota. The company currently outfits commercial fleets with accident detection devices (shown in image), and is looking to scale out its geographic operations and commercial business. Read more from Recode.

Image: Nauto accident detection device / Credit: Nauto Inc.

News Roundup: Self-Driving Car Systems ‘Tricked’ By Vandalized Road Signs, Ultra-Modern Driverless Pods to Debut in Dubai, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Some of the most interesting headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-vehicle industries over the past week:

U.K. government: Car sellers will be held responsible if cars are hacked

In a surprising and bold move, the British government’s Department of Transport on Sunday, Aug. 6 released new guidelines regarding cybersecurity of connected vehicles. In particular, the guidelines state that in cases where a connected vehicle’s system is hacked, the board members of the company that sold the breached vehicle will be held accountable. Furthermore, the guidelines state that “companies should build in-house knowledge of security threats, while getting help from third parties where appropriate,” such as by utilizing open-source platforms and peer-reviewed code when appropriate. The companies “need to be able to support data forensics if something goes wrong,” the department stated. Read more from Fortune Magazine.


Researchers discover that graffiti on road signs can trick self-driving cars into driving dangerously

In a rather disturbing new discovery, researchers announced this week that many self-driving car systems can be fooled by simple graffiti on road signs. “Placing stickers or posters over part or the whole of a road sign could be used to trick the smart car into ignoring stop signs, even if visually they appear the same to the human drivers,” said a team of researchers at the University of Washington. In particular, the study revealed that stickers added to a stop sign tricked a self-driving car’s software into thinking it was a speed limit sign for 45, so the car drove right through the stop sign. In another example, by simply altering the color of a right-turn arrow on a road sign, the self-driving car’s software misinterpreted the sign to be a stop sign, and stopped in the middle of traffic. The team said they hope the results of their study help developers to build better defense systems in autonomous vehicles. Read more from The Telegraph


Careem’s ultra-modern driverless pods to hit Dubai streets soon

The Middle East is fast becoming a transportation innovation powerhouse. Careem, the Middle East-based tech company behind the highly successful car-booking app of the same name, announced that their sleek, ultra-modern driverless pods will soon be hitting the streets of Dubai. Overall, Careem says they aim to have at least one-quarter of all vehicle trips in the emirate to take place in a driverless vehicle by the year 2030. Careem recently announced the wrapping up of the company’s Series E funding, bringing the company’s total valuation to around $1 billion. Significant recent investors hail from the U.S., Germany and Saudi Arabia. In addition, Careem’s self-driving software was created in partnership with California-based NEXT Future Transportation, and Careem’s navigation system now integrates with Google Maps. In another impressive innovation, Careem contracted with Digital Barriers for its new driver facial recognition system, which will virtually eliminate cases of car theft by preventing cars from operating for anyone other than the car’s owner or other approved users. Careem’s car-booking app operates in 80 cities worldwide, and boasts roughly 6 million users. Read more about Careem from ZDNet.

Image: Rendering of Careem’s driverless pods that will soon hit the streets of Dubai. Credit: Careem

Big Rebound By Visteon Pushes D20 to a Gain

After a one-week set-back, the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) returned to its winning ways, largely thanks to a big rebound by Visteon Corporation.

Twelve price gainers out-weighed eight price losers to help the D20 beat the Dow and S&P 500.

The D20 gained 1.23 points, or 0.6 percent, as it climbed to 215.04 while the S&P 500 added 0.2 percent to close at 2,438.30 and the Dow remained virtually unchanged at 21,394.76.

Visteon (VC), the automotive parts maker, was the D20’s price gain percentage leader of the week, adding $3.54 to its stock price and closing at $95.91 per share. It rebounded nicely from last week’s 8-percentage-point drop in price.

Blackberry (BBRY) missed its quarterly revenue forecast, which hammered its stock price, dropping it 7.8 percent and making it the D20 price-percentage loser of the week.

Visit the Driverless Transportation D20 Stock Index page to learn more about it and its component stocks.


Navya, maker of the Arma, a driverless shuttle bus, has announced that it will deploy two Armas to the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. It is part of the Mcity Program, the University of the Michigan-led partnership with driverless and connected vehicle makers to improve safety, sustainability and accessibility in an urban test facility.

News Roundup: Congress Set to Weigh 14 Driverless Vehicle Bills, Univ. of Michigan to Get Two Self-Driving Shuttles, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of new headlines to come out of the driverless, connected-car industry this week:

Congress to weigh 14 driverless vehicle bills next week

The federal government is racing to address emerging mobility technology. Their efforts are being led by a series of 14 driverless vehicle bills that will hit the House floor next week. Some of the bills may be swooped up into a larger package the House will be considering. The bills address a number of issues, including whether autonomous vehicles should have to obtain approval for their technology before going to market, establishing guidelines for the sharing of data, and allowing some test vehicles to be exempt from traditional automobile standards. Read more from The Hill.


Tesla’s VP of Autopilot, a former Apple engineer, abruptly leaves

A mere six months after joining Elon Musk’s team, former Apple engineer of 12 years, Chris Lattner, has left his position at Tesla Motors as vice president of autopilot software. Lattner announced his departure on Twitter, saying it “turns out Tesla isn’t a good fit for me after all.” He added that he was eager to hear about interesting open roles for “a seasoned engineering leader,” and that his resume was easy to find online. Shortly after, Tesla announced that Lattner’s role was being filled by two people evenly — existing Tesla Autopilot hardware chief Jim Keller, and a new hire, Andrej Karpathy, who reportedly has a PhD from Stanford University in “computer vision.” Read more from The Register.


Two driverless shuttles to debut on Univ. of Michigan campus

Mcity, the University of Michigan’s public-private partnership for mobility research including driverless vehicles, will launch a driverless shuttle service on the school’s North Campus this fall. The two shuttles were manufactured by Navya, and are fully automated. Each shuttle can seat up to 15 passengers. “This first-ever automated shuttle service on campus is a critical research project that will help us understand the challenges and opportunities presented by this type of mobility service and how people interact with it,” Huei Peng, director of Mcity and a professor of mechanical engineering at U-M, said in a statement. The shuttles have been being tested since December. Read more from The Detroit Free Press.


Image: Still from Univ. of Michigan YouTube video

News Roundup: Driverless EZ10 Shuttle Scheduled to Debut in Taiwan This Summer, Industry Predictions From Australia, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

The latest driverless transportation headlines from the past week, summed up for you:

Driverless shuttle will launch in Taiwan this summer

A new EZ10 autonomous shuttle is scheduled to launch in Taiwan on various campuses of National Taiwan University (NTU) this summer. The vehicle itself was manufactured by French lightweight automobile manufacturer Ligier, and the self-driving technology is the product of another French company, EasyMile–original developer of the EZ10–together with Taiwanese firm 7Starlake. The shuttle has no back or front and can easily change direction at any point on its route. The shuttle can cruise at up to 20 miles per hour, and can carry up to 12 passengers, six sitting and six standing. It is also equipped to carry handicapped passengers. The shuttle is expected to debut first with a single route at the NTU Shuiyuan Campus in July, and will expand to additional routes later. Read more from Euro Transport Magazine.


Australia association insists all cars will be driverless, all highways will have dedicated lanes, within 10 years

One major association in Australia is getting mightly confident about the nation’s progress toward driverless cars. A new report from Roads Australia, one of the biggest associations for the nation’s roads, predicts that all new manufactured cars will be driverless within 10 years, and that all Australian roads will feature dedicated lanes for driverless cars within 5 to 10 years. The report also refers to American ridesharing company Lyft in stating that by the year 2025, it will be cheaper to pay to ride in a driverless car than to own and maintain one’s own vehicle, and that vehicle ownership will be all but nonexistent. While many say they are encouraged by Roads Australia’s report, however, plenty of others are calling it “ambitious” and “unrealistic,” including David McCarthy, an executive from Mercedes Benz in Australia. McCarthy said he is more inclined to believe that increasing levels of driving autonomy will happen over the next many years, but that reaching full autonomy across the board within 10 years is unlikely, in his opinion, not only due to the technology’s progress, but also lags in legislation. Read more from Drive.


Uber fires head of its self-driving car division

Presumably yielding to mounting pressure during their court battle with Google’s Waymo, Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the head of its self-driving car development division. Levandowski was previously the head of Google’s self-driving division, and Waymo alleges that when he left the company to accept the job with Uber, that he downloaded as many as 14,000 files, many relating to Waymo’s Lidar system, which is the key component to its self-driving car technology. Previously, a judge ordered that Levandowski halt working on any driverless car technology until the lawsuit was settled, but this week, Uber opted instead to fire Levandowski, who is still required to cooperate in the court battle and investigation. Uber has replaced Levandowski with self-driving car engineer Eric Meyhofer. Read more from Bloomberg.

Hear From Elected Officials and Tech Innovators and Take Test Rides at Fairfax County, Virginia’s Autonomous Vehicle Event

Jennifer van der Kleut

Fairfax County, Virginia is working on positioning itself at the forefront of transportation technology by hosting an autonomous and connected vehicle event.

On Wednesday, May 3 the county will bring together elected officials, transportation experts and technology developers to discuss the future of transportation in the region in a moderated panel as well as offer demonstration rides.

Among the elected officials attending will be Chairman Sharon Bulova and Supervisor John Foust from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“Virginia has positioned itself as a leader for technological innovation,” Bulova said this week. “With top researchers road testing their products here, local companies have already begun investing in and advancing this technology and contributing to growth in our economy.”

Among the other panelists will be representatives from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). The institute operates one of the commonwealth’s largest “smart roads,” which is 2.2 miles long and includes three bridges, and allows developers to test autonomous and connected vehicles. Controlled weather stations and varying pavement conditions allow for testing in abnormal conditions.

Many Fairfax County officials say they think innovative technology such as self-driving capabilities and vehicle-to-vehicle communications could benefit the local region in countless ways.

“I think it’s an open road when it comes to how driverless cars will impact the county and country as a whole,” said Supervisor Foust, who chairs Fairfax County’s Economic Advisory Commission. “There are huge economic, safety, environmental and mobility benefits.”

There are many experts who theorize that driverless cars can reduce congestion, reduce the need for so much parking in busier cities, and help reduce the mounting costs brought about by thousands of vehicle accidents each year.

“I’ve seen reports that say the economic impact could be upwards of $1 trillion. Self-driving cars could also improve safety, reducing insurance rates. And, this technology could save millions in fuel consumption,” Foust added. “We’re also hopeful that this technology will benefit the mobility needs of our seniors and people with disabilities.”

Members of the public are invited to come out to the Fairfax County Government Center, located at 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax, on Wednesday, May 3 from 12-5 p.m. The event will offer refreshments and networking opportunities at the start, followed by the panel, open discussions, and demonstration rides in test vehicles at both the start and finish.

Among the featured panelists will be John Estrada, the CEO of eTrans Systems, a Fairfax-based company that manufacturers connected-vehicle software and technology. Estrada is also the founder of Estrada will be displaying and demonstrating some of eTrans Systems’ connected-vehicle technology and offering demo rides during the event.

Space is limited, so advance registration is recommended. People can register through the Fairfax County government website.

News Roundup: Zoox Hires Top NHTSA Safety Expert, New Study Puts Ford at Top of Driverless Game, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of recent headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-car world over the past week:

Innovate UK opens up applications for CAV project funding

Innovate UK will award up to 55 million pounds to the organization that designs “the world’s most effective Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) testing ecosystem.” Read more details online.


Zoox hires former head of NHTSA

Autonomous car startup Zoox announced it has hired Mark Rosekind, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to be its new chief safety innovation officer. Industry analysts say this is a bold move by Zoox, and shows the San Francisco-based startup recognizes how big of a role regulation will play in the future adoption of autonomous technology. Zoox said Rosekind will lead the company’s efforts to “safely develop, test and deploy autonomous vehicles.” Zoox envisions fleets of autonomous vehicles in urban centers, and has developed “a full-stack system comprising both hardware and software.” Under Rosekind, the NHTSA previously issued voluntary guidelines for automakers and others in the self-driving space last September for the technology behind self-driving cars. Read more from Reuters.


Irish engineering students show off autonomous vehicle projects

Third-year students at Trinity College Dublin have been working to “explore and develop novel concept applications” for autonomous vehicles. The students showed off some of their project ideas at the Science Gallery of Dublin on Monday. Projects included an autonomous ambulance that could increase response times; an autonomous bus that could pick up elderly people from their homes and features a door and seats that are more accessible for the mobility-impaired; a logistics system for autonomously navigating airplanes on runways; and a sports car that is more friendly and accessible to the disabled. Additionally, one of the projects featured a wheel system that eliminated the need for traditional suspensions in cars. Read more from


New study ranks companies in order of their autonomous vehicle progress

A new study by Navigant Research indicated Ford Motor Co. is currently winning the race when it comes to driverless cars. In a close second place was General Motors, followed by Renault-Nissan and Daimler. Google’s Waymo came in seventh, and Tesla Motors came in at twelfth. Uber, which has been having some difficulty with its autonomous car program, came in at sixteenth and was “docked points for having neither good production strategy nor good technology.” Uber’s self-driving car testing program recently had to be halted for three days while they investigated a serious crash in Arizona. The company is also currently involved in a lawsuit, in which Google’s Waymo has accused them of stealing its technology. The study recognized that ride-hailing companies like Uber are less likely to want to manufacture their own autonomous technology, and instead usually prefer to partner with other companies, though. Read more from NESN Fuel and USA Today.

Image: Zoox concept car, courtesy of Zoox