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Michigan Pushes Willow Run, UK Invests in CAV Efforts

Burney Simpson

The state of Michigan and the United Kingdom continue to put money into autonomous driving research with the belief that the investments will pay dividends.

The Michigan Strategic Fund will spend $1.2 million to purchase the 311 acre Willow Run site in Ypsilanti Township where it plans to operate the American Center for Mobility (ACM).

Backers want the ACM to become a world center for the development and testing of connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technology.

On Friday, Michigan politicos met with US Department of Transportation leadership to request the ACM be named a national testing and validation center, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, along with Rep. Debbie Dingell, met with DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx and Mark Rosekind, director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

acm1Peters told the newspaper that CAV technology should be standardized to ensure that these vehicles can ‘talk’ to each other using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications.

Giving the ACM the authority to validate CAV technology could give it a competitive advantage over established test sites like the Va Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, Va.

The ACM is a joint initiative of the University of Michigan, Business Leaders for Michigan, Ann Arbor SPARK, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Chief of the ACM project John Maddox told MLive that buying Willow Run will prove to be a milestone in CAV development.

“The ability to build out Willow Run with its deep historic innovative roots to now create a center to safely validate connected and automated technology is an incredible opportunity for not just the state of Michigan, but also our country,” Maddox said.

A massive factory on the Willow Run site became known during World War II as the Fortress of Democracy as workers churned out thousands of B-24 bombers. The factory later was used as a GM powertrain facility.

$40 MILLION GRANT

In the United Kingdom the government announced it would soon launch a competition for a $40 million grant for research and development of innovative connected and autonomous vehicle technologies.

The money comes from the Intelligent Mobility Fund. In February the Fund awarded $26.5 million to a number of projects to promote driverless technology research.

There’s another $25 million fund that is helping to pay for driverless car projects in Greenwich and Bristol, and a joint project in Milton Keynes and Coventry.

Graphics by Ann Arbor Spark.

Hype-less AVS 2016 Asks the Right Research Questions

Burney Simpson

Is this the show for autonomous driving nerds? No, that’s not quite fair. The Automated Vehicles Symposium 2016 is for the research types, the folks that dig deep to develop the systems that are going to bring driverless cars to fruition.

If that’s a nerd, wear the name proudly.

The AVS organizers must be doing something right. Last year it drew 870 attendees, a 50 percent rise from 2014. This year it looks to bring more than 1,000 academics, researchers and government staff to the San Francisco Hilton at Union Square on July 19-21, with ancillary meetings on the 18th and 22nd.

The conference is managed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and the Transportation Research Board (TRB), a division of the National Research Council.

The Symposium calls itself the “largest gathering in the world of professionals involved with making automated vehicles a reality.”

Jim Misener acknowledges there’s a certain nerd factor to the show, but that’s because it is heavily weighted to engineers, scientists and deep thinkers.

“This show is less about the hype, and more about understanding what the research questions are,” said Misener, a director of technical standards with Qualcomm Technologies, the telecom giant’s chip design and R&D arm.

IMPORTANT MATTERS

There are two parts to the AVS, notes Misener.

In the morning there are short speeches on big topics by the likes of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and reps from Ford and Nissan. Speakers cover ‘important matters’ like ethics, regulations, and autonomous activities around the globe.

After lunch you get the real action with 4-hour multipart breakout sessions that include presentations, Q&As, panels, videos, the ubiquitous PowerPoints, and general discussion. These sessions are designed to encourage frank interaction, and are closed to the media.

Misener helped to organize two of the 22 breakouts.

Enabling Technologies focuses on the foundational technology for driverless vehicles – mapping, algorithms, communications, sensing (sensors), and data.

In brief, the seminar is designed to educate on the strengths and limitations of each of these five technologies in 2016, and how they might work together in successful autonomous vehicle deployments. The discussion can lead to an understanding of technology gaps, and the research needed to close the gaps.

The ultimate goal is to define state of the art driverless technology, and determine how we can advance to that, said Misener.

He also helped organize a workshop on the aftermarket technology for autonomous vehicles.

AUVSI14aThe average car in the US is 11 years old, making aftermarket devices an important way to get autonomous technology into vehicles already on the roads.

“There could be a market for these devices. They could usher in safety and mobility services that get us to automated vehicles,” said Misener.

Other breakouts will address such topics as sustainability, cybersecurity, shared mobility, you get the drill, the usual.

Many attendees will come early for the Monday, July 18 ancillary meeting of the engineering organization SAE On-Road Automated Vehicle Standards Committee. The second ancillary meeting is on Friday, July 22, with the EU-US-Japan Automation in Road Transportation Working Group.

In addition, the AUVSI is holding on July 18 the Startup Connection at the Hilton. It offers demonstrations, presentations and networking for firms in unmanned systems and robotics, and investors looking for new companies.

Columbus, Ohio Wins $50 Million Prize in U.S. DOT’s Smart City Challenge

Jennifer van der Kleut

News broke this week that the city of Columbus, Ohio has beaten six other cities to win the $50-million prize in the Smart City Challenge.

Cities from across the country were invited earlier this year to pitch their intelligent-transportation project ideas to compete for $50 million in funding. Recently, the seven cities of Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon were named the seven finalists, and were invited to Washington, D.C. to formally pitch their project ideas to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on June 3.

For the prize, $40 million in funding is coming from the USDOT, as well as $10 million from a private grant from the company Vulcan, explained the website ColumbusCEO.com.

In addition, the public-private partnerships Columbus formed to help them win the bid will be investing another $90 million in grants for the project, bringing the total funding to $140 million.

Partnership members including Battelle, AEP, Ohio State University, Nationwide, Honda, L Brands, Cardinal Health and others, according to ColumbusCEO, many of which were brought to the table by Columbus’ new mayor, Andrew Ginther.

Columbus’ winning idea consisted of a plan to “link neighborhoods and improve mobility for residents while encouraging additional growth, and to provide an environment for new and existing technology companies to locate in the city,” reported the website Transport Topics.

To be more specific, ColumbusCEO.com described the project as a plan to “use the opportunity to connect workers in high poverty neighborhoods with jobs, improve access to education and prenatal care, and reduce traffic congestion.”

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio confirmed Columbus’ win this week, and said he and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx were impressed by how many companies and CEOs the city was able to bring to the table to collaborate for their innovative project.

“Mayor Ginther and the city’s partners demonstrated a commitment to smart growth that makes the city better for all residents. And that’s why I worked so hard to support Columbus’s efforts,” Brown said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with local leaders and community members to realize the vision of a first-of-its-kind transportation system that increases access to jobs, links neighborhoods, and improves real-time information in a sustainable, safe way.”

An additional prize coming to Columbus is $1.5 million worth of electric vehicle chargers and mobile solar generators donated by DC Solar Solutions, the largest manufacturer of mobile solar technology in the country, Transport Topics indicated.

A press conference is expected to take place sometime on Thursday, June 23 in Linden, one of the Columbus neighborhoods that will benefit from the project.

East Coast DOT’s Get Ready for Connected & Automated Vehicles

East Coast transportation officials gathered this week near Baltimore to catch up with the latest in autonomous activity at the ‘Connected & Automated Vehicles: What States Need to Know’ conference.

The event was organized and led by the I-95 Corridor Coalition, a partnership of state departments of transportation and related agencies in the 16-state region from Maine to Florida. Roads in these states account for 16 percent of the nation’s road miles and 35 percent of vehicle miles traveled.

The conference was designed to explain the importance of connected and automated technology, update officials on activities in the sector nationwide, and help assist states in developing next steps, said Dr. Trish Hendren, executive director of the Coalition.

About 200 registered for the conference at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum, Md.

Much of the conference was devoted to officials from state DOTs and related agencies updating each other on activities within their borders.

Here are some highlights from the first day of the conference –

SAVING MONEY

A number of state DOT officials stressed how connected technology may help save the agency some bucks. Virginia DOT’s Dean Gustafson noted that Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications could mean the elimination of various signs and traffic signals that cost as much as $1 billion to develop, install, maintain.

Joah Sapphire, who has worked on the New York DOT’s connected efforts for Global Dynamic Group, suggested that a DOT could look at individual line items and find savings. For example, information gathered through connected tech could help New York reduce the $417 million it spends annually on salt and sand to treat roads during bad weather.

New York is already testing driverless trucks to be used in work zones that could make the space safer for crews, said Sapphire.

Gustafson said that states have to work together so communication systems work across borders. He acknowledged that states can be very competitive, especially when they seek research dollars or revenues from technology.

“It will be hard to compete with Michigan and the auto industry there. And Silicon Valley and venture capital (in California),” said Gustafson, state operations engineer. 

(However, Virginia is no slouch, busy testing with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, expanding its testbed last year to include parts of Washington Beltway, the Federal Highway Administration working on parts of Virginia’s Connected Corridors, and more ongoing projects.)

Gregory C. Johnson, state highway administrator for Maryland, said that states should look to ways to monetize the V2I technology and the highway land they own. “I’m looking for a state to come up with that magic bullet (of monetization) so I can copy them,” said Johnson.

IS STAFF PREPARED?

Gene Donaldson, TMC operations manager with the Delaware DOT, said he has insisted the state install information-gathering technology whenever it lays down highways. And he teased the crowd by saying a certain firm asked Delaware if it could run its autonomous vehicle across the state to Pennsylvania. (The answer was yes as Delaware law doesn’t forbid it, said Donaldson. He wouldn’t name the firm.)

However, he warned that schools aren’t training enough people today in technology already installed, like traffic signals. How do you take advantage of V2I technology if you don’t have staff ready to work with it, asked Donaldson.

TESTING

Several officials gave reports of strong research they are doing on connected and autonomous technology.

Dr. Gene McHale of the FHWA talked about research conducted in the Washington, D.C. metro area. The FHWA is testing connected vehicle tech with the 5.9 GHz band at nearby air bases and labs, and on I-66 in Virginia. One finding — 22 percent fuel savings when fully automated ‘glide path’ systems are used so vehicles avoid stopping at intersections.

Mark Kopko, manager of advanced vehicle technology with the Pennsylvania DOT, said the state is operating three testbeds with more than 20 intersections equipped with DSRC technology around Pittsburgh. Keystone State’s jewel is Carnegie Mellon, a robotics and autonomous technology leader.

The Pennsylvania legislature could soon consider SB 1268 that will allow NHTSA Level 4 testing, said Kopko. If approved, Pennsylvania will have greater leeway in driverless testing, and it already has plans regarding truck platooning.

MORGAN STANLEY

Adam Jonas, a transportation analyst with Morgan Stanley, woke up the crowd after lunch with a presentation on the changes coming to the transportation business.

The ‘shared autonomy’ industry will be led by giants like Apple and Google who develop driverless vehicles that offer personalized transportation services akin to what Uber and Lyft are doing today, Jonas predicted.

People worldwide now ride a total of 10 trillion miles annually, said Jonas, and at $1 a mile, the market for transporting people is $10 trillion.

That’s an intriguing figure but the real money comes when the ‘megafleet’ operators sell to advertisers and others the eyeballs of riders sitting in the driverless cars.

Increased safety and reduction in deaths and injuries that connected technology brings will encourage citizens to shift to driverless vehicles and give up some privacy, Jonas argued.

Also, Jonas predicted a public/private partnership between a city and business in 2018 or 2019 will set aside an area exclusive to operating connected and/or automated vehicles. He declined to name the city.

DSRC AND COMMENTS TO THE FCC

Several speakers suggested the state officials may want to leave comments for the Federal Communications Commission as it considers whether to open up the 5.9 GHz spectrum to Wi-Fi communications.

In brief, the federal government set this section of the spectrum aside in 1999 for transportation safety messages using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC). Connected vehicle proponents want to keep this space for this use as the technology grows.

Telecommunications firms have asked the FCC to allow them to use at least part of the 5.9 band. These firms say they will use it to offer bandwidth for Wi-Fi as it surges in popularity.

“The wireless community is very vocal,” said Blair Anderson, deputy administrator with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Dr. Gummada Murthy, associate director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, is fighting to keep the band reserved for transportation-related uses.  

“We don’t want to share it unless you can prove that sharing it will not compromise safety,” said Murthy.

He’s holding a webinar on June 30 for state DOT and local officials that will encourage them to send official comments to the FCC on DSRC.

ITS AMERICA 2016

A number of these East Coast speakers attended last week’s ITS America 2016 conference in San Jose. General impression was the technology was impressive, the number of connected and autonomous projects was impressive, the conference was impressive. Etc.

HERE HEATS UP

HERE announced it had been selected by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to provide its real-time traffic data for the state’s roadways. North Carolina joins seven other East Coast states in using Here’s Real-time Traffic Services.

North Carolina DOT chose Here through the I-95 Corridor Coalition’s Vehicle Probe Project that is designed so states and others can purchase, validate and share data.

DRUMMERS

Interesting to see who is spending some money to catch the eye of East Coast transportation officials. Conference sponsors included Ch2m, HNTB, Inrix, Jacobs, National Energy Research Laboratory (NREL), and WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Exhibitors included Cambridge Systematics, CATT Lab from the University of Maryland, Consensus Systems Technologies, HERE, Inrix, Kapsch TrafficCom, Kimley-Horn, NREL, and Southwest Research Institute.

The I-95 Corridor Coalition addresses such major topics as alternative transportation system funding, freight supply chain, MAP-21, FAST Act implementation, tolling issues, and connected and automated vehicles.

Feds Should Preempt States on Driverless Regs: SAFE

Burney Simpson

Autonomous vehicles would be developed faster if federal rules could preempt state laws on the technology, the Washington, D.C-based advocacy group SAFE argued last week.

The not-for-profit Securing America’s Future Energy released its The National Strategy for Energy Security: The Innovation Revolution paper, a 160-page pdf listing a host of new approaches to powering transportation, at a series of presentations at the Newseum.

The report calls for the federal pre-emption of state autonomous vehicle regulations, the start of live testing of the vehicles in select communities, and an office at the Department of Transportation to lead development of the technology.

“We need uniformity and consistency of regulations across all 50 states so autonomous vehicles can be developed,” said Amitai Bin-Nun, director of Safe’s Autonomous Vehicle Initiative.

ElectricCharge1Safe was joined at its event by John Krafcik, chief of Google parent Alphabet’s self-driving cars group, along with executives from Nvidia, producer of graphic processing units; Peloton, groundbreaker in truck platooning research; and Moovel, Daimler’s urban mobility operator.

Safe advocates for America’s energy security, arguing the country’s transportation sector is too dependent on foreign oil. Instead, the “widespread adoption of plug-in electric vehicles would put an end to oil’s stranglehold on the U.S. transportation system,” according to its website.

Safe’s Energy Security Leadership Council is led by Frederick Smith, president and CEO of FedEx Corp., and General James Conway, a retired Marine Corps Commandant.

Safe has set a goal of reducing oil demand by 50 percent by 2040, and autonomous vehicles are central to that objective, Conway said.

“I would argue that we probably don’t get there unless the autonomous vehicle movement succeeds and becomes our mainstay,” said Conway, according to Safe’s The Verge news source.

Safe’s national strategy paper comes amidst a contentious debate over driverless regulations in California, a leading autonomous vehicle center.

Last December the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles floated the idea of requiring drivers physically sitting behind steering wheels in driverless cars. Google responded the proposal failed to understand the point of the vehicles, and didn’t recognize the capabilities of the technology.

Soon thereafter, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) pledged to release this summer guidelines for the states on autonomous vehicles.

Since then, the California State Legislature has considered several proposals that sought to limit the authority of the state DMV.

THREE REG CHANNELS

Most states haven’t taken a hard look of driverless technology. As of April, eight states and the District of Columbia are either allowing testing of the technology on their roads, or are conducting research on the topic, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“We don’t know where states will wind up. They might include (requirements) for a driver and a steering wheel,” said Bin-Nun. “Designing a vehicle for different states is very difficult for the auto OEMs.”

Safe believes driverless oversight should be organized in three channels, said Bin-Nun.

First, regulations on vehicle hardware should continue to be set at the federal level, while states should continue to control local licensing, insurance, traffic laws, and driver-for-hire rules, he said.

Third, a federal office should regulate autonomous vehicle safety rules, said Bin-Nun.

Safe last year created its autonomous vehicle task force and ramped up its promotion of electric-engine equipped autonomous vehicles (See “Autonomous Cars = Lower Oil Imports”). Bin-Nun became director of the department in February.

A shift to electric-powered vehicles would reduce the use of gas-powered internal-combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

In contrast, electric vehicles get charged by power supplied by the electric power industry. Domestic energy sources coal, natural gas, nuclear plants, hydro plants, and wind and solar provide the fuel for electric utilities, according a study from The Washington Post.

Photos: Electric car reloading/recharging, 2011, by Ludovic Hirlimann; Foto e vide di tutti I modelli, 2015, by Automobile Italia.

California Pols to DMV: Relax Draft Driverless Regs

Burney Simpson

Legislation moving in the California State Assembly calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to step back from the draft regulations on driverless vehicles it announced in December.

Two proposals take shots at the California DMV’s oversight of autonomous vehicles.

The General Assembly chamber passed the third Thursday with a unanimous 71-0 vote.

That proposal is not confrontational, asking for an exemption to DMV rules so fully-autonomous shuttles can operate at a business park near Silicon Valley, a first for the U.S.

GoogcarCalif2But the overwhelming approval of the proposal indicates that legislators want the DMV to step back from its tough approach to driverless regs, according to the sponsor, Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla.

“This (bill) could prod and show the DMV the interests of the legislature,” she said. “The state wants to move forward on driverless vehicles.”

The proposals follow Google’s public disagreement with portions of the DMV’s draft, and its announcement that it would test its driverless vehicles in Kirkland, Washington, and Phoenix. (See “Google Expands Self-Driving Car Tests to Phoenix, Arizona”).

The DMV’s draft called for driverless vehicles to have steering wheels, pedals and other traditional equipment, that a driver be in the vehicle, and that the driver have a special certificate for operating the cars.

The agency said that the rules must be strict to ensure public safety while the technology evolves.

Google said the draft failed to recognize the rising capabilities of the technology, and would make it near-impossible to develop vehicles that could be used by the blind, people with disabilities, and others who can’t drive.

TEXAS-SIZE COMPETITION

The first proposal that challenges the DMV is by Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, a Republican from Diamond Bar.

The Transportation Committee on Monday approved Chang’s AB 2682 that would require the California DMV to hold public hearings if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposes a model state policy on driverless vehicles.

GoogCarAustin2NHTSA has already pledged to meet a July deadline for finishing the policy document. It held a public hearing on the guidelines on Friday in Washington, D.C., and plans a second on April 27 at Stanford University in Silicon Valley.

In effect, Chang’s proposal would require the DMV to openly debate the model state policy.

Chang said in a release her bill is designed to make California more competitive so it can grow driverless business activity in the state.

“We are competing with business-friendly states like Texas to keep the tech in California so we need to make sure we don’t lose another opportunity for keeping jobs in California – and potential federal funding,” Chang said.

Google began testing in Texas last year, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has asked Congress for $4 billion over 10 years to speed the development of driverless vehicles.

Chang’s proposal now goes to the Appropriations Committee for a cost review.

The second proposal, AB 2866, is from Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Burbank Democrat, who issued a fact sheet that echoed Chang’s points.

Gatto argues that the DMV’s draft rules would “effectively render autonomous vehicles illegal” but his bill “will ensure that California is not outcompeted by other states in the launch of this unique technology” so it can “reap the economic and public health benefits of autonomous vehicles.”

AB 2866 calls for the California DMV and the state Highway Patrol to hold a safety feasibility test of driverless vehicles on public roads in three counties. The test would include the participation of one or more autonomous vehicle manufacturers.

Gatto’s legislation is scheduled to be heard April 18 by the Transportation Committee. 

AN EASYMILE FOR GOMENTUM?

The proposal that earned unanimous approval relates to the GoMentum Station vehicle test bed in Concord operated by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. GoMentum offers 5,000 acres and 20 miles of roads, and clients have included Honda and Mercedes.

Sponsor Bonilla, a Democrat from Concord, says she introduced AB 1592 so a business park near GoMentum could test driverless shuttles that do not have an operator, a steering wheel, a brake pedal, or an accelerator.

WEpod driverless shuttleGoMentum partnered with France-based EasyMile to operate two shuttles in what they say is the first use of Shared Driverless Vehicles in the U.S.

In practical terms the shuttles will cross over some public roads as they operate in the 685-acre Bishop Ranch business park in San Ramon, says Bonilla. The bill allows the shuttles to travel on the public roads even though they are driverless.

Bonilla believes the success of the proposal tells the DMV to rethink its draft regulations.

“There was some consternation towards the DMV. They took too long, and (the regs) were outdated,” said Bonilla. “We just got 71 legislators to move (my bill) to the Senate. That shows the interest of the state legislature.”

Bonilla’s proposal must still be approved by the state Senate and signed by the governor.

 

Photo – California Republic by Hakan Dahlstrom, 2009.

Cohda Steps Up for Connected Test, Smart City Challenge

Burney Simpson

Australia-based Cohda Wireless is providing its hardware and software for the $50 million Smart City Challenge and for a connected vehicle test in South Carolina sponsored by US Ignite.

In the Smart City Challenge, Cohda and its partner NXP Semiconductors will jointly provide to the winning city their Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) modules and development tools.

The wireless modules allow vehicles to securely exchange information with each other and road infrastructure. Proponents of connected vehicle technology say it will lead to safer roads as drivers and their vehicles receive information on road, weather, and traffic conditions.

The Smart City Challenge is a national competition led by the U.S. Department of Transportation designed to develop the connected city of the future. The DOT announced seven finalists in March – Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco.

NXP, a supplier of Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technology, last year reported it owned 23 percent of Cohda (See “Lear’s Arada Buy Expands V2X Line”). Cisco Systems is also an investor in Cohda.

SOUTH CAROLINA TEST

The connected vehicle test on 10 miles of Interstate I-85 in South Carolina will use Cohda’s MK5 onboard units and roadside units for V2V and V2I communications.

Clemson University is overseeing the test on the South Carolina Connected Vehicle Testbed (SC-CVT) near the school’s International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR) campus in Greenville.

Cohda says its products are used in more than 60 per cent of all V2X field trials worldwide.

Sponsor US Ignite is a not-for-profit backed by the White House Office of Science and Technology and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Transportation is one of its six priority areas.

The I-85 project received a $600,000 grant last year from the NSF. The Foundation reports that the U.S. Department of Transportation will “likely require” by 2020 that all new vehicles be connected vehicles “capable of communicating with other vehicles and roadside infrastructure through wireless communications.

The Program Manager is John Brassil of the NSF’s Computer and Network Systems division. The Lead Investigator is James Martin, an associate professor with Clemson’s School of Computing.

Google to DOT: We should be able to sell driverless cars if they can pass federal road test

Jennifer van der Kleut

News outlets are reporting that Google executive Chris Urmson sent the U.S. federal government a proposal Friday suggesting that self-driving cars should be legal on public roads, and legal to sell to consumers, if they are able to pass a road test satisfying federal safety standards.

Furthermore, Google’s proposal said the rule, if approved, should apply to any company manufacturing self-driving cars, not just Google.

“Google would rather not wade through government bureaucracy and red tape, so it has penned a proposal that will hopefully allow autonomous vehicles to be federally approved for road use sooner,” Hot Hardware reported Saturday.

“It’s hard to argue with Google’s reasoning,” Hot Hardware writers said, appearing to agree with Google.

This past week, representatives from several top companies such as Google, General Motors, Lyft, Duke University and Delphi Automotive, which are all heavily invested in autonomous car research and development, appeared on Capitol Hill to testify before members of Congress on the merits of the rising technology.

While it appears some progress was made in the meeting, in the same week, a new report from the Department of Transportation made headlines.

In its efforts to create a consistent national policy regarding self-driving cars, the DOT proposed that any self-driving cars on public roads must include a driver’s seat, steering wheel and brake pedal.

This was met with disappointment from Google, whose cars are famously steering wheel-less.

Engadget reports that the proposal was sent in an informal letter to top DOT officials on Friday, but that an official draft proposal has not been submitted to legislators yet.

Nevertheless, Google representative Johnny Luu told the Associated Press that the tech company’s proposal was “the beginning of a process” to create “the right framework that will allow deployment in a safe and timely manner.”

If approved, analysts see the proposed road tests as a “fast-track” approach to getting self-driving cars to market, as opposed to the current, more lengthy process automakers usually have to abide by.

“The typical process for making new rules takes years,” Associated Press reporter Justin Pritchard reports.

There is no word yet on what legislators think of Google’s idea.

“The department will take input from lots of stakeholders as we develop [a] plan,” Gordon Trowbridge, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is overseeing the regulation of self-driving technology within the broader Department of Transportation, told the Associated Press last week.

 

 

 

U.S. Finalists for Smart City Challenge Announced, Will Now Compete for $40 Million in Funding

Jennifer van der Kleut

At the SXSW Festival over the weekend, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the seven finalists for a unique challenge that could garner the winning city $40 million in funding to transform their town into a driverless “utopia.”

As Gizmodo explains, the country’s Smart City Challenge is a “fast-track initiative” to get cities thinking more about smart, high-tech solutions to urban transportation–with a particular focus on autonomous vehicles.

After receiving proposals, Foxx announced seven finalist cities that will compete for $40 million in funding from the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the implementation of their ideas.

The seven finalist cities are:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco, California

Gizmodo reports that the challenge was initially announced across the country in connection with the DOT’s “Beyond Traffic” report, which warned cities that if they didn’t start preparing for autonomous transportation soon–a big push by the Obama administration, which recently pledged $4 billion to help make it happen–they could find themselves wasting millions on infrastructure improvements that become obsolete as the technology becomes the new norm.

The competition was specifically open to midsize cities with populations between 250,000 and 850,000. Finalists were selected based on “how well their proposals match the DOT’s goals — and how likely they look to succeed,” CNET said.

CNET reports that DOT representatives were “blown away” by the quality of the 78 submissions they received from cities all over the country. In fact, they had initially planned on five finalists, but added an extra two because they were so impressed.

The seven finalist cities will now receive $100,000 each and begin work with some of the world’s most powerful tech companies to fine-tune and streamline their project ideas.

The winning city, to be announced in June, will not only receive up to $40 million in funding from the DOT, but Gizmodo reports they “will receive tools and assistance from several partners, including data storage by Amazon Web Services, driver-assistance tech from Mobileye, a 3D modeling platform from Autodesk, and a V2V communication system from NXP.”

The winner will also get up to $10 million more from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s company Vulcan, “which is focused on vehicle emissions reduction and helping cities to stop climate change.”

“I want our country to lead the world in transportation again,” Foxx said. “Unfortunately we got into this practice of thinking small, and we can’t afford to do it anymore if we’re going to lead the world in economic growth and quality of life and pass along a country that is better than the one we inherited,” Foxx told Gizmodo.

Traffic Fatalities Rising Again

Early data show there will be a “significant increase in lives lost on our roadways” in 2015, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said at the Washington (D.C.) Auto Show.

Deaths due to car crashes had plateaued from 2009 to 2014 but statistics from January through June of last year indicate a rise in vehicle fatalities, NHTSA Administrator Mark R. Rosekind said.

Rosekind noted that new autonomous driving technology can help lower the 94 percent of traffic fatalities that are caused by human error.

He pointed to Automatic Emergency Braking Systems, blind spot elimination, and lane departure warning technology as showing great promise in lowering human-driving errors.

An estimated 16,225 persons died in motor vehicle crashes in the first six months of 2015, according to an analysis of data from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and other sources. That’s a rise of more than 8 percent from the same period in 2014.

In 2014, there were 15,014 traffic fatalities through June, and 32,675 for the year. The fewest fatalities occur in the first quarter, FARS data shows. Crash fatalities dropped about 40 percent from 1973 to 2013, but only 0.03 percent from 2009 to 2013 (See “Road Safety Hits a Plateau: Fed Traffic Stats“).

Driver education on using seatbelts and distracted driving is especially needed for the young, said Rosekind.

SURVIVE THE DRIVE

The new book ‘Survive the Drive’ by two researchers from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is designed to educate new drivers and their families on driving risks and ways to avoid them.

Authors Thomas A. Dingus, VTTI director, and Mindy Buchanan-King, communications director, note that driving has a fatality rate of 15.2 per 100,000 participants. That’s higher than white water rafting, boating, scuba diving, and other popular sports.  

Teens especially are in danger while driving distracted. For instance, teens that drive and text have a 10 times higher chance of crashing than an adult, according to the Survive the Drive’s analysis of VTTI naturalistic driving studies.

While it’s true that autonomous technology will help lower accidents, it will take about 25 years for today’s cars to be replaced with vehicles with the safer features. That’s because owners hold on to their vehicles for so long, according to the book.

Rosekind announced at the auto show that the Department of Transportation had launched the ‘Safe Cars Save Lives’ public awareness campaign to urge vehicle owners to check for open recalls at least twice a year.  Vehicle owners can search for their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on NHTSA’s database to find if it is part of an open recall.

There were nearly 900 recalls affecting 51 million vehicles in 2015.

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