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Biden’s Job Plan: For This Fight You Want an EV with a TV

If you are an EV owner – or would like to be – you have a lot to look forward to in the $2 trillion Biden infrastructure plan, including purchasing subsidies and a host of new charging stations.

But you may want to pull over and find the TV nearest you.  Cause a rumble in the jungle – aka Congress – is fixin’ to happen, and you won’t want to miss it.  To pay for these goodies, Biden seeks to reverse two trends: the growing share of multinationals’ income channeled through tax havens and the declining collections of corporate tax as a share of GDP.  And the howls from D.C. and corporate America are already deafening.

In total the American Jobs Plan – which aims to decarbonize the economy by 2050 and to make electricity carbon-free by 2035 – would cost more than $2 trillion over eight years. Half the cash is devoted to matters like fixing roads and bridges, establishing broadband, and removing lead pipes that carry water. The $1 trillion or so of climate-specific spending is roughly half the size of the clean-energy plan Biden released during his campaign, but if passed would nonetheless be the most far-reaching climate bill ever enacted.

And here’s the kicker for the EV sector: the plan proposes $174 billion in spending on electric vehicles, to subsidize production and sales as well as to establish a network of 500,000 charging stations across the country by 2030, six times the current number in the US. To further decarbonize the transportation sector, the plan also invests $156 billion to modernize public transport and rail networks, ideally making alternatives to driving more attractive.

An altogether serious chunk of change, which is why skeptics of the plan point to the funding mechanism.

Unlike his $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief bill, which was almost entirely deficit-financed, Biden would like his $2 trillion infrastructure plan to be paid for with taxes.  To do so, the proposal aims to reverse two trends, the Economist reported earlier this month.

The first is the declining collections of corporate tax as a share of GDP, which is just 1% now compared with 2% before the Trump tax cuts, and well below the 3% average of other rich countries.

Trump slashed the corporate tax from 35% to 21%; now Biden would like to split the difference, raising the rate to 28%. But this would only yield about $900 billion of the $2 trillion total, according to calculations by the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

A bigger chunk would come from reversing a second trend, the growing U.S. profits held overseas and channeled through tax havens, now 60% of foreign earnings compared with 30% in 2000.

The tax rate on global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) would be doubled from 10.5% to 21% and the tax would be assessed on a country-by-country basis rather than in aggregate. It would also eliminate the deduction for overseas income earned from American-based intangible assets like intellectual property. Combined, the Penn Wharton model estimates these changes would bring in $1 trillion in revenue over the coming decade, the period covered by the $2 trillion in spending.

But without comparable tax regimes in other countries, the cost of being an American-based multinational would go up considerably. This is why Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary, has begun pushing for a global minimum tax, currently proposed at a rate of 12.5%. The plan also promises to limit corporate “inversions,” which allow businesses to change nationality and avoid the taxman.

This is a bold opening move, and skeptics are right to warn that this bid will not pass through Congress unscathed.

Senator Joe Manchin has already argued for a smaller corporate tax increase to 25%. And Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, didn’t mince his words when he warned that the plan would sabotage the recovery. “President Biden is leading America in a race to the bottom of growth and productivity,” he said.

So the boxing bell just went off and it’s time to grab your seat.  If you’re lucky, you’ll catch this fight in an EV with a TV. 




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You’re in Charge of the U.S. DOT; Where Do You Start?

The impossibly improbable has occurred and you’re the new transportation secretary.

Fifty-five thousand employees are waiting for their marching orders. Transportation “leaders” around the country – some rooting for your downfall – watched your Senate confirmation, all the flashy talk about reducing carbon, racial equality, and an economy that works for all. But talk is cheap, and they are ready to dissect and exploit your every move.

So what do you think about U.S. transportation?

You inherited your predecessor’s office furniture and an $87 billion budget when Congress extended the FAST Act another year. But large chunks of the department’s budget, including much of the nearly $47 billion allocated for roads and public transit are controlled by funding formulas set by Congress.

And that is precisely why your new boss hired you. He didn’t pick a fly on the wall. Significant overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure—which has become a perennial joke on Capitol Hill—will require significant negotiation with federal lawmakers.

But the shot clock is ticking. Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, and pushing through your boss’s $2 trillion infrastructure reform plan will be difficult if it doesn’t happen this year when midterm elections in 2022 could change your odds.

So where do you start?

You scratch your head, but it’s obvious. You immediately dial-up Representative Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He takes your call because he likes your boss. You have him over for dinner.  The conversation and booze flow effortlessly.

Your next call and dinner party isn’t as enjoyable. Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican of Tennessee, was one of 13 senators to vote against you. He told everyone that you will “use the department for social, racial and environmental justice causes,” instead of focusing on “streamlining environmental reviews for projects or other deregulation efforts.”

So your hands are about to get dirty. Do you win Mr. Haggerty and his 12 amigos over by funding a rural highway-on-ramp in nowhere Tennessee, even though that will increase car use? Could be worth it.

Meanwhile, those other “leaders” won’t stop pounding your door, reminding you that transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and the Paris agreement your boss cares about is hopeless if you don’t clean up U.S. transportation.

And others bust your chops by waving studies that conclude commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty and building a better life—a bigger factor than crime, test scores in schools, or living in a two-parent home.

Still, others call the climate crisis a hoax and accuse you and your leadership of being the real crisis.

But you have money you can use to make real changes immediately, including the department’s $1 billion BUILD grant program that funds road, rail, transit, and port projects across the country. Your office controls the criteria that determine what project proposals are competitive for funding, and transportation secretaries from both parties have historically used this program to follow through on their priorities.

Speaking of which, what are your priorities?

Are you going to encourage bike lanes and bus travel?

Are you going to support sidewalks in distressed neighborhoods or cheaper transportation costs for low-income workers?

And one final question: Do you still want the job?

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Brief: U.S. DOT Releases New Autonomous Vehicles Comprehensive Plan

With Biden’s inauguration around the corner and mounting expectations for his Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its new Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan on January 11. The report highlights the agency’s strategy to ensure the safe rollout of automated driving systems.

“The AVCP lays out the department’s robust multimodal strategy to promote collaboration and transparency, modernize the regulatory environment, and prepare the transportation system for the safe integration of Automated Driving Systems (ADS),” according to a department press release. “The AVCP builds on the U.S. Government’s core principles related to automated vehicles, outlined in Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies: Automated Vehicles 4.0 (AV 4.0),” the release continued.

But unlike the “core principles” outlined in AV 4.0, the plan presents clear actions the department is pursuing to ensure the safe integration of automated driving systems into the transportation system. For example, the department is proposing several updates to the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), including pavement markings on all roads with a posted speed above 40 mph be 6″ wide; chevron markings in all transition areas are now recommended; and dotted edge line extensions on highway exit and entrance ramps would be mandatory, not optional.

The report also highlights five use cases that demonstrate how the department is currently supporting ADS development and outlines key initiatives the U.S. DOT has leveraged to obtain input from a diverse range of stakeholders, including across industry and other governmental agencies.

The plan comes on the heels of another U.S. DOT report published in December, which summarizes findings from the 2019 CV/AV Survey administered to agencies from 78 large metropolitan areas and 30 medium-size cities.

Overall, one-quarter of agencies surveyed reported they have deployed connected vehicles, and another 30% saying they plan to deploy CVs in the future. Among the agency types, freeway agencies currently lead in CV activities, with 65% deploying or planning to deploy, compared to around half of arterial and transit agencies.

Over one-third (39%) report AV testing or deployment occurring in their region or state among all the surveyed agencies. However, only 14% report active involvement in the testing; 10% support the AV testing, and 4% lead the AV testing. The remaining 25% of agencies are not involved in the AV testing.

The release of both reports is timely, with stakeholders arguing it is time for Congress to provide a robust infrastructure reauthorization bill to support the safe deployment of these next-generation transportation technologies.

The AVCP will be published in the Federal Register for public review and comment.



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U.S. Transportation Department Key to Biden Meeting Paris Agreement Targets

The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As President-elect Biden lays the groundwork for a new administration and prepares to re-enter the Paris Agreement, his cabinet pick for secretary of Transportation, along with his policies on emissions, electric vehicles, and autonomous vehicles will determine the fate of Biden’s ability to hit greenhouse gas (GHG) targets set by the 2016 Paris Agreement.

You can’t possibly take climate change seriously without deep reflection on how our transportation system works. Transportation accounts for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, more than any other sector, including agriculture, industry, and even electricity generation.

Which is why Biden’s choice for Transportation Secretary, and the department’s policies on emissions, electric vehicles, and autonomous vehicles is so consequential in the fight to hit critical Paris Agreement goals.

Though counterintuitive, keeping Elaine Chao in the role, Trump’s secretary of Transportation, has its upsides. Chao is married to Senator Mitch McConnell, who is likely to remain Senate Majority Leader. Not only could Chao’s pillow talk act as a bridge across party lines, but the move could also help Biden get a deal on another cabinet post.

Politico has compiled their list of contenders for the top transportation job, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti leading the pack. A long-time Biden loyalist and a co-chair of his presidential campaign, Garcetti has also made waves in the transportation world with his innovative policies to reduce congestion and improve public transportation access throughout Los Angeles. Oregon congressman Earl Blumenauer and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual are also on Politico’s list of contenders.

Appointing a reliable democrat like Garcetti has its advantages. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is a team sport that will require close coordination with administrators at the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as with former Secretary of State John Kerry, Biden’s newly appointed climate envoy who will run point on coordinating Paris Agreement goals with the global community.

Regardless of who lands the top transportation job, a recent Freight Wave survey reveals that mobility executives, investors, and analysts are preparing for more emissions regulations, more electrification, and increased regulations on autonomous vehicles—policies that are key to hitting Paris Agreement targets.

Reilly Brennan, a partner at TrucksVC, sees incentives coming down the pike for an “EV for clunkers” program to promote the exchange of gas guzzlers for zero-emissions vehicles.

And Sam Abuelsamid, a principal e-mobility analyst with Guidehouse Insights, suspects the federal tax credits for EVs will be expanded. Current federal policy dictates that incentives for purchasing EVs run out once an automaker’s sales hit 200,000, and many electric vehicle companies have run out of their allotted tax credit eligibility.

On emissions, the EPA under Trump rolled back an Obama-era standard that imposed more stringent fuel efficiency rules for cars and trucks. The administration also sought to revoke a California waiver allowing the state to set its own greenhouse gas emissions standards.

But Abuelsamid, who foresees the reinstatement of strict fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards rolled back under the Trump administration, told Freight Waves he expects “the EPA to work with California to get more EVs on the road and get a national standard that everyone can agree on for CO2 regulations and adoption of electrification.”

As for connected and automated vehicles, which a 2017 U.S. Energy Information Administration study concluded could lead to a 44 percent reduction of fuel consumption by 2050, industry representatives are optimistic that continued focus on clear automated vehicle regulations will accelerate the proliferation of this technology.

While Barack Obama initiated the first AV guidance, providing a framework for manufacturers and developers for designing, testing, and deploying self-driving cars and trucks, the effort continued under the Trump administration, which released AV 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0.

Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder of Plus, a self-driving trucking technology company, told Freight Waves that he welcomes “strong and clear safety-focused regulations at the local, state and federal levels that are necessary to provide the industry and consumers the confidence needed to roll out this transformative technology.”

Solving our transportation woes is by no means a panacea to combatting climate change, but reducing transportation sourced emissions is certainly a good step in the right direction given the sector’s inflated impact on total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

So, whether you voted for Biden or not, let’s hope our president-elect gets transportation right.

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Many Frustrated as FCC Rules to Reallocate 5.9 GHz Spectrum Away from Transportation Safety

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously on November 18 to redeploy the majority of the 5.9 GHz band of wireless radio spectrum once reserved for advanced vehicle safety technologies. The decision, hailed by cable companies, has prompted dire warnings from departments of transportation and various transportation safety groups who say road safety and the future of automotive innovation in the U.S. has been severely compromised.

The block of the 5.9 GHz band at issue was designated in 1999 for transportation safety-related use when the FCC set aside 75 megahertz of spectrum for vehicle and infrastructure communications, including Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC). Wednesday’s verdict significantly narrows valuable spectrum in what is recognized as the transportation “Safety Band” by reallocating 45 of the 75 megahertz in the band for other commercial purposes, such as Wi-Fi.

John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group with members including BMW AG, Ford, GM and Toyota Motor Corp, told Bloomberg Technology in an email that the FCC’s move “undeniably impacts road safety and the future of automotive innovation in this country.”

“Not only was most of the 5.9 GHz Safety Spectrum reallocated away from transportation safety, but it also appears that critical issues around harmful interference to Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) operations were not addressed,” Bozzella continued.

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said minutes before the vote that the long-promised safety network hasn’t materialized. “We can no longer tolerate this inefficient use” of the airwaves, Pai said.

Shailen Bhatt, President and CEO of The Intelligent Transportation Society of America, countered sharply in a press release following the decision. “Chairman Pai’s statement is incorrect – it is corporate interests that are cheering the reallocation of the safety spectrum away from the public interests.”

ITS America is one of dozens of transportation safety organizations that have been sounding the alarm about the implications of this action – including the U.S. Department of Transportation, all state departments of transportation, and many other organizations dedicated to keeping people safe on U.S. roads.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has also been an outspoken critic of reallocating the spectrum. A year ago, she submitted a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking him to keep the 5.9 GHz safety spectrum reserved for possible lifesaving transportation benefits.

“Due to the significant potential vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technologies have to reduce these societal crises, it is imperative to the Department that the full 75 MHz of the 5.9 GHz Band is preserved for its existing purposes, including transportation safety and other intelligent transportation purposes.”

Transportation safety concerns aside, reassigning the airwaves represents a win for cable providers such as Comcast Corp. that want to use the frequencies to connect with customers’ mobile devices.

The FCC is taking “an important step” toward “improving and expanding broadband service,” NCTA, a Washington-based trade group for cable companies, told Bloomberg Technologies. “It will allow providers quickly to deliver gigabit Wi-Fi speeds to consumers and relieve Wi-Fi congestion.”

Other companies backing the FCC’s plan include Comcast, Broadcom Inc. and Facebook Inc., the FCC said. Facebook lobbied the agency to ensure that users could access the frequencies outdoors as well as indoors.

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WisDOT Launches Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee

Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) technologies are expected to have a wide-ranging impact on transportation in Wisconsin. To prepare, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) launched the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle External (WAVE) Advisory Committee in September to gather stakeholder input and advice on CAV-related planning priorities, implementation policies, and impacts on the state’s transportation system.

In his opening remarks at the inaugural meeting on September 8 and 9, Secretary of Transportation, Craig Thompson, reflected on the importance of the transportation system, how every aspect of people’s lives are made easier and more enjoyable by a good transportation system, and that the potential impact of CAV technology may be as dramatic as the rise of digital technology.

The purpose of the committee is to “provide a forum consisting of representatives from CAV and transportation-focused organizations, state economic sectors, and the public sector to review CAV issues and to provide input and advice to WisDOT on CAV planning priorities, implementation policies, and impacts on a safe and efficient transportation system,” states the committee’s charter.

Committee member Ray Mandli, President of Mandli Communications Inc., a Madison-based company that supplies high-definition digital maps to automated vehicle companies, is encouraged by WisDOT’s approach to preparing Wisconsin for this technology.

“CAV technology has a tremendous upside, but the safe and equitable deployment of this technology will require good planning and foresight. The WAVE Advisory Committee is a good step in the right direction, convening key stakeholders from the public and private sector to support our DOT as it moves forward in this exciting area.”

Committee members come from the private sector, non-profit groups, various associations, academia, and other government agencies. Each member commits to a two-year term.  The full list of members can be found here.

Topics discussed on September 8 included the state of CAV research at Wisconsin’s universities, as well as private sector CAV research, development and testing domestically and abroad.  Speakers included Dr. David Noyce from the UW-Madison;  Dr. Troy Liu from UW-Milwaukee; Dr. Henry Medeiros from Marquette University; Mr. Josh Fisher from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation; Mr. Robert Fischer (yours truly) from the Society of Automotive Engineers International; and Mr. Brian Scharles from TAPCO.

Discussions on September 9 revolved around federal, regional, and local government perspectives on CAV planning, policy implementation, and regulation.  Speakers included Ms. Sara Bennett from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); Mr. Brad Basten, and Mr. Don Gutkowski, both from WisDOT.

The WAVE committee will build off the progress made in 2017-2018, when WisDOT convened a special committee to recommend a coordinated effort to best advance testing and operation of autonomous and connected vehicles in Wisconsin. The committee was chaired by the WisDOT Secretary and included representatives from the State Legislature, public agencies, law enforcement, auto manufacturers, trucking, motorcycles and other sectors. The final report and other details can be found on the committee’s page.

Minutes for the September WAVE kickoff meeting can be found here.

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Could Greenhouse Gas Emissions Be Added To COVID-19’s Casualty List?

As the world rebounds from the first waves of coronavirus, governments are preparing to spend trillions of dollars in economic stimulus. This raises the question: should the United States earmark stimulus funds to flatten the climate curve? By targeting investments that modernize the automobile, not only could we add greenhouse gas emissions to the long list of coronavirus’s casualties, but we could also create thousands of new jobs. With unemployment slated to reach 15% in 2020, this sounds like a two-for-one deal the American public could get behind.

The world now knows what can be achieved by closing vast swaths of the economy and stopping a great many people from traveling: a record drop in greenhouse gas emissions. In the first week of April, daily emissions worldwide were 17% below what they were last year. The International Energy Agency expects global industrial greenhouse gas emissions to be about 8% lower in 2020 than they were in 2019, the largest drop since the second world war.

But this noteworthy reduction reveals a crucial truth about the climate crisis. It is much too large to be solved by the abandonment of planes, trains, and automobiles. This sad experiment has shown that to get on track with the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious goal—of a climate only 1.5C warmer than it was before the industrial revolution—the world would still have to reduce GHG emissions by 90%.

Some see this moment as an opportunity. According to a recent Economist article, Dr. Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, reminds us that government decisions guide about 70% of the spending on energy. “In a very short period,” Birol says, “governments will make enormously consequential decisions.” Total stimulus spending will be in the trillions. If a decent fraction of that is earmarked for climate action, it could be world-changing.

Pleas to channel stimulus funds toward climate action were also made a decade ago, when policymakers were trying to dig themselves out of the 2007-09 financial crisis, the Economist continued. Roughly an eighth of the stimulus money disbursed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—some 90 Billion dollars—went into clean-energy loans and investments.

And while critics are quick to point to the infamous $535 million loan to Solyndra, a company devoted to cylindrical solar cells, which went bust soon after, the vast majority of loans were repaid. Of note was the ARRA loan that helped to finance Tesla’s first car factory. Fast forward to 2019, when Tesla released its first-ever environmental impact report, the electric car manufacturer had produced 550,000 zero-emissions vehicles since it started production of its first electric car. And by then, Tesla’s fleet of vehicles had driven over 10 billion miles, helping prevent over 4 million tons of CO2 from polluting the environment.

Investing in transportation to fight climate change makes a lot of sense. Transportation accounts for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, more than any other sector, including agriculture, industry, and yes, even electricity generation. And while cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, and railroads all contribute to transportation sector emissions, light-duty passenger cars and trucks—basically your typical commuter car and pick-up truck—account for 60 percent of all transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

And just as renewables like wind and solar have been steadily decarbonizing the power sector, we’ve known for years that electric, connected, and automated vehicles show tremendous promise when it comes to mitigating transportation sourced greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released a report back in 2017 concluding that by 2050 connected and autonomous vehicles could lead to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption. That same year, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy also released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ride-sharing in urban areas, where they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80 percent.

If 60% of transportation sourced CO2 emissions come from automobiles, achieving an 80% drop would lead to a 48% reduction in total transportation emissions. That’s a hell of a kickback in the fight against C02.

And here’s the kicker: according to research from Boston Consulting Group and Detroit Mobility Lab, self-driving and electric cars will help create more than 100,000 US mobility industry jobs in the coming decade, including up to 30,000 jobs for engineers with degrees in computer-related subjects. But the demand could be as much as six times the expected number of such graduates, exacerbating the industry’s already significant talent shortage. With the current unemployment rate, dealing with talent shortages, rather than job shortages, sounds like a breath of fresh air.

Coronavirus and climate change are two crises that don’t just resemble one another; they interact. Except the harm from climate change will be slower, more massive, and longer lasting. And simply dampening climate change without solving it is like turning down the temperature on a pressure cooker without switching it off: the food inside will eventually burn and rot.

The fact of the matter is we won’t have many more chances in our lifetime to make sweeping changes to how we live and move around our communities—at least not with the size and scale of the stimulus on deck.

Which is a good reminder: never let a crisis go wasted.

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Autonomous Vehicle Safety Reports Leave a Lot to Desire

MADISON, Wisconsin – On the heels of the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s annual autonomous vehicle disengagement report, Beijing’s Innovation Center for Mobility Intelligent (BICMI) published its 2019 survey of self-driving vehicles being tested on local roads.


Both reports, which hinge on tracking disengagements – or the frequency at which human safety drivers were forced to take control of their autonomous vehicles – are a stark reminder of how little we have to measure the safety and performance of autonomous vehicles.


“Comparing disengagement rates between companies is worse than meaningless. It creates perverse incentives,” said Bryant Walker Smith, associate professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law and an expert in self-driving cars. 


Smith explained to the Verge that if he were to register in California and never test, for instance, he’d look good. “If I wanted to look even better, I’d do a ton of easy freeway miles in California and do my real testing anywhere else,” he continued.


California law requires that every company testing autonomous vehicles on public roads submit data on the number of miles driven and the frequency of disengagements. Beijing is one of the few cities globally to mandate that autonomous car companies disclose their disengagement results too. 


According to reporting by the Verge, the total number of autonomous miles driven in California last year rose 40%, to more than 2.87 million, thanks largely to a notable increase in public on-road testing by Baidu, Cruise,, Waymo, Zoox, and Lyft.


But the report has generated considerable discussion about whether disengagements communicate anything meaningful. Echoing similar sentiments as Smith, Waymo, which drove 1.45 million miles in California in 2019 and logged a disengagement rate of 0.076 per 1,000 self-driven miles, said that the metric “does not provide relevant insights” into its technology. Cruise, for their part, drove 831,040 miles last year and reported a disengagement rate of 0.082, said the “idea that disengagements give a meaningful signal about whether an [autonomous vehicle] is ready for commercial deployment is a myth.”


Meanwhile, Venture Beat reported that a total of 77 autonomous vehicles from 13 China-based companies covered over 646,000 miles on Beijing roads during 2019, according to the BICMI. That’s up from the 95,000 miles eight firms drove in 2018.


The BICMI report doesn’t break out disengagement numbers by company or vehicle, but it said 86% of disengagements in 2019 resulted from human takeovers. Examples might include drivers tinkering with data-recording equipment, changes in planned routes, or “personal reasons” (like bathroom breaks). The remaining 14% of disengagements were attributable to some form of mechanical or software system failure.


The inherent weakness of using disengagements to measure the success of autonomous vehicles are glaring.


For starters, the very nature of public road testing means that the environments are inconsistent. A mile in Palo Alto is very different than a mile in downtown San Francisco.


Also, in California, the vague DMV definition of disengagement means that car companies aren’t following the same protocols. The DMV defines disengagements as “deactivation of the autonomous mode when a failure of the autonomous technology is detected or when the safe operation of the vehicle requires that the autonomous vehicle test driver disengage the autonomous mode and take immediate manual control of the vehicle.” That leaves a lot of room for interpretation.


For example, a self-driving car owned by GM Cruise ran a red light in San Francisco after the safety driver took control to avoid blocking a crosswalk. But the company didn’t include the incident in its report because, according to Cruise’s interpretation, the human driver didn’t act out of safety concerns or a failure of the autonomous system.


And finally, nowhere in either report is it specified which advanced driver assist system (i.e. adaptive cruise control) failed and precisely what event triggered the disengagement.    


The result is that it is impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison about the performance and safety of these vehicles.


And if you thought you could turn to the federal government for better data, think again. Most major players in the US have also submitted voluntary safety reports to the federal government as part of the Department of Transportation’s voluntary guidance. But these reports read more like marketing documents.  


The reality is that if the public wants to understand how safe self-driving vehicles are, one alternative is to consider leveraging methods and techniques currently being used by insurance providers. After all, insurance groups have a lot at stake when it comes to understanding the quality of these systems.  


When the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) set out to evaluate the success rates of active lane-keeping systems in 2018, for instance, it tracked the number of times the vehicle had to overcorrect after crossing clearly marked lane lines. Why? Because evaluating the safety of these vehicles requires the collection of relevant and targeted data about specific advance driver assist systems.  


An alternative approach, according to Smith, would be for companies to release testing summaries with details and context about each disengagement. While not ideal, the thought is that with more information about precisely which system failed and under what conditions, the public could conceivably start teasing out some meaningful conclusions. But no company to date has done that.


And short of any new regulations set forth by public authorities, the industry may have to forge its own path by developing their own standards. Dmitry Polishchuk, head of Russian tech giant Yandex’s autonomous car project, noted that Yandex hasn’t released any disengagement reports because they are “waiting for some sort of industry standard” to overcome the discrepancies in how companies are defining and recording disengagements. The right industry standard could help overcome this test-and-don’t-report alternative.  


The good news is the SAE has created a task force to provide definitions, information and best practices to support verification and validation of self-driving systems. It’s still unclear, however, when we can expect to see the fruits of their labor.


At this point, there is little reason to expect much will change in 2020, which leaves us in a frightful situation: There are currently millions of miles being driven by automated vehicles on public roads, and no one can agree about what data we should use to measure their safety.


If that’s not reckless driving, then what is?



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Overcoming The High Carbon Debt of Electric Vehicle Production

WASHINGTON, DC – While it’s nice to have a new year for a fresh start, resolutions can be tricky, especially if you are considering buying an electric vehicle to reduce your annual carbon footprint.

Though studies show that over their lifetime EVs produce fewer emissions than gas guzzlers, EVs generate considerably more CO2 than their gas counterparts on the assembly line. Without reforms to EV manufacturing, or access to green energy to fuel the vehicle once it hits the road, studies suggest it could take years – well beyond the scope of your 2020 resolution – for an EV to be greener than a gas car.

Today, transportation accounts for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States, more than any other sector, including agriculture, industry, and yes, even electricity generation.

The good news is that the smooth, emissions-free ride of an electric vehicle shows a lot of promise in the fight to decarbonize transportation.

Recent years have seen a flurry of studies, like this 2018 International Council on Clean Transportation report, affirming that over their lifetime EVs produce fewer emissions than gas-powered cars.

But the same report notes that Chinese EV battery manufacturers, who currently produce over 60 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, also generate 60% more CO2 during fabrication than an internal combustion engine vehicle.

That’s right, when an EV roles off the assembly line, relative to the manufacture of a gas car, an EV has added to greenhouse gas emissions, not reduced them.

How long does it take for an EV to break even with its gas-powered counterpart, you ask?

The short answer: anywhere from 6 months, if you believe the 2015 Union of Concerned Scientist report, to 9 years or more if you go with World Economic Forum numbers. That’s quite a spread, admittedly, but depending on the underlying assumptions in the study, like the size of the battery and the range of the vehicle model, the results can be dramatically different.

But the more nuanced answer to the question is that the time it takes for an EV to break even with a gas car depends on two key variables: how the vehicle is manufactured, and how you fuel it once the vehicle hits the road.

When it comes to manufacturing, the ICCT report notes that Chinese EV manufacturers could cut their emissions by 66% if they adopt American and European manufacturing techniques. It’s not clear if that leads to a 66% reduction in the time it would take for an EV to break even with a gas car – a 1:1 ratio – but a CO2 reduction of that size in the assembly phase would undoubtedly help.

Once the EV hits the road, a car battery is only as green as the fuel that feeds it – a coal fed battery is dirtier than a solar powered battery – so access to renewably sourced energy becomes a key factor for an EV to catch up to a petrol car.

To cite one of the more ominous studies, in Germany, according to the WEF, where about 40% of the energy mix is produced by coal and 30% by renewables, a mid-sized electric car must be driven around 78,000 miles, on average, to break even with a diesel car, and 37,000 miles to match a petrol car. That would take about 9 years for an electric car to be greener than a diesel car, based on annual German driving behavior.

For some added perspective, if you were to apply the same logic to the state of Wisconsin, for example, where only 9% of energy is renewably sourced, and folks drive on average 15,000 miles per year, it would take 375,000 miles, or 15 years, to break even with a diesel car, and 180,000 miles, or 7.5 years to match a petrol car.

That’s a long time, especially when you consider motorists who buy a brand-new car typically keep it for about six years. At these rates, a first time EV buyer may never have the opportunity to be more green than a gas car.

There is reason for optimism, notes Lori Bird, the Director of the US Energy Program at the World Resource Institute. Not only is renewable energy the fastest-growing energy source in the U.S, increasing 100 percent from 2000 to 2018, but we are seeing some positive trends when it comes to pairing EVs with green energy.

Austin Energy has developed a network charging program, called the Plug-in Everywhere Network, that allows customers to access a network of charging stations that source 100% of their charging electricity from wind. Approximately 35% of EV owners within Austin Energy’s service area participate in this program.

There are also managed charging programs, like a recent pilot called Charge Forward, run by Pacific Gas and Electric and BMW in April 2018, where customers agreed to delay charging for up to an hour each day to better align with available renewable energy, in exchange for lower charging rates.

The City of San Diego, for their part, kicked off a partnership with Sand Diego Gas & Electric and others in 2012 to implement a pilot project at the San Diego Zoo, where 10 photovoltaic canopies were installed, giving customers access to five charging stations. When not in use, the solar energy is stored in a battery system.

Meanwhile, other utilities offer discounts to customers willing to charge when renewable energy is being generated – also known as time-based rates. Southern California Edison, for example, introduced in January 2019 competitive rates that incentivize customers to charge on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., when solar is abundant, and off-peak hours on weekends from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., when the wind is available.

While these examples may feel small in scale, BNP Paribas, one of the world’s largest banks, sent warnings to the oil industry in a 2019 report, stating that “the oil industry has never in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with EVs poses to its business model.”

Solar and wind energy, paired with electric cars, the report concludes, provides up to seven times more useful energy for mobility than gasoline on a dollar-for-dollar basis. And that economic reality could hit oil companies sooner than they think.

Bottom line, the stakes are high when it comes to climate change, so any edge in the fight to decarbonize transportation must be explored. Fortunately, strategies to beef up EV access to renewable energy and reform manufacturing practices seem to show some promise.

It has been said that inflated expectations are the number one reason new year resolutions fail.

If purchasing a shiny new electric vehicle is part of your plan to downsize your carbon in 2020, you may want to temper your ambitions.

While in the long run buying an EV makes perfect sense, you won’t likely hit your target by year-end.

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How Cities Can Digitize Their 21st Century Mobility Policies

For the better part of last century, cities used analog systems like lane markings and curbs to manage their transportation network.  As we move into the new digital age of transportation, cities are finding innovative ways to digitize their transportation policies.

Every morning on my way to work, I drive through what could be the most over-engineered intersection east of the Mississippi.

This rather typical four-way crossroads is packed with an atypical and whopping 36 traffic lights (if you count each red, yellow and green light), 8 pedestrian crosswalk signals, 6 strategically placed video cameras, and a spattering of street signs – 14 specifically – indicating street names, speed limits, turn lanes, parking and bus zones. All that gear to manage one intersection!

When I described the scene to a friend over lunch one day, he joked: “That, there, is the face of big government and the visible overreach of the administrative state.”

Overreach or not, cities have always been responsible for managing their surface transportation network, and for the better part of the last century, they did so using analog systems like stop signs, lane markings, curbs, and police officers.

Today, however, we are moving into a new digital-age of transportation with ride-hailing, micro-mobility, drones, and autonomous vehicles. If cities are to live up to their mandate in this brave new world, they must not only have policies in place about this digital world, but they also must embed policies directly into this digital world – in other words, digitize their policies.

Afterall, decisions are happening at lightning speeds in the digital realm. From the GPS-based route optimization when you order a ride, to the payment systems for the ride service, to the safety-critical vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems, the digital world is where the action is happening.  And remember, part of the promise of autonomous vehicles is that they will one day remove the human from the driving equation entirely, ultimately shifting all of the decision making to the digital world.

Which is why Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, and other cities jumped to form the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF), whose mission is to govern the new Mobility Data Specification (MDS).

MDS is a set of data specifications and data sharing requirements that force mobility companies to report basic data on the location and use of their equipment. While MDS, in its current form, is focused on e-scooters and e-bicycles, it was originally developed by the LA DOT to better manage AV deployments, and extending it to AVs remains a goal.

But MDS alone won’t enable digital traffic management.  Cities will also need a high definition map of the city, or as the latest “Technology Action Plan” [pdf] by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation describes it, a “digital infrastructure that mirrors the current hardscape and that gives transportation assets like curbs, streets, sidewalks, airspace, and subterranean space a digital identity.”

That’s right, code is the new concrete, and a key tenet of OMF’s mission is that the city is going to own and govern its digital twin.

“Going forward, each city must manage its own Digital Twin, which will provide the ground truth on which mobility services depend,” states the OMF bylaws [pdf].

The result is that all stakeholders—both cities and the private mobility companies—will operate off the same digital map, with MDS acting as the data and communication protocol.

By combining MDS with a digital twin of the urban environment, cities will finally be in a position to digitally – and actively – manage private sector service providers.

For instance, a city could digitize their AV policies directly into the digital twin—in other words, embed into the universal map rules like speed limits and where and when vehicles can park, instead of relying on street signs that AVs may or may not recognize.

Furthermore, using the MDS protocol, not only could a city track precisely where and when AVs are operating, but policy violations could be enforced in real-time, instead of relying on snail mail for ticketing.

There are around 90 cities in the world piloting MDS, according to the Executive Director of OMF, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, who shared his estimate at a recent conference in Los Angeles.

One thing is for sure, byzantine analog methods for managing transportation aren’t likely to cut it any longer. City officials need new tools and technologies that allow them to fulfill their role as planners, operators, investors, regulators, and enforcers of the surface transportation network.

And though some folks, like my friend, may find solace in a future with fewer analog systems lining our streets, don’t be fooled by the digital regs hiding beneath the surface.


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Digital Transportation: The Future of Urban Mobility

The physical scale and unprecedented population growth in some cities have officials grappling with how to manage their transportation network. The Open Mobility Foundation has a bold, digitally-based vision to help cities meet their mobility goals.


PORTLAND, Oregon – What used to be a relatively quick, uneventful drive into Portland from my southwest neighborhood has turned into a traffic debacle. I knew commuter life in Portland had changed forever when, on this last visit, my GPS said, “Are we there yet?”

Portland is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, and like many booming cities, population growth and gridlock have swelled hand in glove. But there is reason for optimism, as Portland and 15 other cities this summer inaugurated the Open Mobility Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to modernize city planning technology and help communities meet their mobility goals.

Cities have always been responsible for managing their surface transportation network, and for the better part of the last century, they did so using analog systems like stop signs, lane markings, and curbs.

Today, however, the transportation ecosystem is surging ahead digitally, with new modes of transportation like ridesharing, scooters, and self-driving vehicles being introduced yearly.

In principle, this phenomenon should be a welcome novelty. After all, with limited budgets, cities can’t just keep adding new transit routes.

But these digital modes of transportation offer plenty of potential in their own right. More than 48% of trips in the most congested cities are under three miles, according to a recent INRIX report, which analyzed over 50 million trips. If a fraction of these trips were replaced by shared bikes and scooters, cities would experience less traffic, reduced emissions, and a boost to the local economy, according to the research group.

Of course, there is a darker side to this tech. Scooters clog narrow sidewalks, lay strewn in the middle of crosswalks, and have been known to force pedestrians into a hurdle race over these wheeled platforms. Meanwhile, ride-hailing firms like Uber and Lyft, which at their inception were hyped as traffic busters, admitted in August they are making congestion worse in some cities.

Indeed, harnessing the promise of these new forms of mobility, while mitigating the bad, has been a challenge for cities.

Which is why Portland, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Minneapolis, and others jumped to form OMF, whose mission is to govern the new Mobility Data Specification.

MDS, which was originally unveiled by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation last year, is a set of data specifications and data sharing requirements that force mobility companies to report basic data on the location and use of their equipment.

The principle is simple: If a city is going to manage its surface transportation network effectively, it better know where ‘stuff’ is.

But MDS alone won’t solve congestion. In order to leverage MDS data to mitigate traffic, cities will need a high definition map of the city, or as the latest “Technology Action Plan” [pdf] by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation describes it, a “digital infrastructure that mirrors the current hardscape and that gives transportation assets like curbs, streets, sidewalks, airspace, and subterranean space a digital identity.”

That’s right, code is the new concrete, and a key tenet of OMF’s mission is that the city is going to own and govern its digital twin.

“Going forward, each city must manage its own Digital Twin, which will provide the ground truth on which mobility services depend,” states the OMF bylaws [pdf].

The result is that all stakeholders—both cities and the private mobility companies—will operate off the same digital map, with MDS acting as the data and communication protocol.

For the first time, cities will be in a position to digitally, and actively manage private sector service providers.  For instance, a city could digitize their scooter policies directly into the digital twin—in other words, embed into the universal map rules like where and when scooters can park. Using the MDS protocol, the city could track precisely where and when scooters are operating and parking, even fining the scooter company or user when city policies are violated.

While MDS in its current form is focused on dockless e-scooters and bicycles, the good news is that it’s extendable to other types of digitized mobility like ride-hailing companies, and even autonomous vehicles.

In addition to supporting real-time management of mobility providers, officials also plan on using the digital twin as a digital testing ground to build and simulate a transportation system that could be exponentially more efficient than the existing network.

To seize this opportunity, OMF founding members are following LA’s lead, and working to build their digital infrastructure.

Indeed, the physical scale and unprecedented concentration of human beings in many cities have officials on edge, asking important questions about disease control, food production, education, housing, employment, migration, and transportation.

One thing is for sure, byzantine analog methods for managing transportation aren’t likely to cut it any longer. City officials need new tools and technologies that allow them to fulfill their role as planners, operators, investors, regulators, and enforcers of the surface transportation network.

It has been said that “technology is best when it brings people together.”

Let’s hope—in this case—the tech keeps us apart.

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U.S. Falling Behind in Smart City Deployments and Key 21st Century Infrastructure

Smart cities are either going to be the pinnacle of modern living or an Orwellian nightmare, but one thing seems for sure: the United States probably isn’t going to be the first to find out.

Recent reporting underscores that the United States has fallen behind its neighbors in both smart city deployments and 5G network rollouts—the latter of which is slated to be the connective tissue of these future cities. The news has some experts on edge.

“China is developing 500 smart cities – almost half of the world’s total and more than 10 times North America’s figure,” according to Graham Allison, the former director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, writing in a recent Axios article. In contrast, Allison continued, “the U.S. is developing 40 smart cities, less than 4% of the globe’s total.”

The IDC tells a similar story in the recently released “Worldwide Semiannual Smart Cities Spending Guide.” In the United States, only four cities (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Chicago) are forecast to spend more than $300 million on smart city programs this year. Meanwhile, 11 cities in China will exceed the $300 million level in 2019.

What about the race to build 5G networks, which have faster speeds, higher throughput, and are considered the backbone of the internet of things, smart cities, and even autonomous vehicles?

The Defense Innovation Board, a who’s-who of tech royalty that advises the Defense Department, met in April and published a critical report on the country’s 5G effort, effectively confirming that Beijing has taken the lead.

“The country that owns 5G will own many of these innovations and set the standards for the rest of the world… [and] that country is currently not likely to be the United States,” wrote the board, which includes former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and Walter Isaacson, a former chief executive of the Aspen Institute.

They have a point: according to patent analytics firm IPlytics [pdf], the United States is behind in the 5G patent race. The Chinese 5G market accounts for 34% of all 5G patents and technology; South Korea accounts for 25%.  Trailing behind those two countries are the United States and the European Union–both of which account for 14% of the 5G market.

I.P. ownership aside, the Unite States isn’t faring much better when it comes to building out 5G networks.

“If you count the launch of commercial service in any form, the U.S. is in front of China,” writes Elizabeth Woyke in a December article for the MIT Technology Review. Both countries have carriers that claim to have introduced early 5G services to a limited number of mobile customers.

On the other hand, Woyke continued, “if you think a country needs to roll out 5G to all its major cities in order to claim leadership, China looks likely to come out ahead.”

China Tower, a company that builds infrastructure for the country’s mobile operators, has said it can cover China with 5G within three years of the government’s allocation of spectrum.

“That points to national coverage by 2023,” warns Woyke. Based on the tone of the Defense Innovation Board report, it doesn’t seem likely the United States can compete with that timeline.

AT&T, for example, plans to cover nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population with 5G by 2021; Verizon has similar plans. However, at this point, there is no clear path to full national coverage in the United States.

Complicating the rollout in the United States are the 80 cities and counties suing the FCC over new rules designed to accelerate the buildout of America’s 5G infrastructure. The rules limit municipal authorities to charging $270 per cell site per year and also impose a “shot clock” limiting how long authorities can take to review installation requests.

The FCC argues that the new rules will free up $2 billion in capital for wireless providers to use in underserved areas like rural communities; cities are claiming the federal government has overstepped its bounds, undercutting local control of infrastructure.

Further slowing the 5G rollout in U.S. communities are health concerns. The service will require thousands of small cell antennas placed throughout cities, and critics have said that the radiation could increase the risk of cancer, fatigue, headaches and other effects—claims that lack scientific support.

The National Cancer Institute recently weighed in, summing up the field of concern by saying a “limited number of studies” showed evidence of a”“statistical association of cell phone use and brain tumor risks,” but added that “most studies have found no association.”

Long story short, it’s not looking so good for the United States right now. Underinvestment in smart city deployments—relative to other countries—coupled with a forecast of a long 5G rollout and low patent ownership is unnerving some experts.

Then again, there may be a silver lining to this tale. After all, in the event these cities do turn into Orwellian nightmares, who would want to be the first to find out anyway?



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Redefining Privacy in the Era of Connected Vehicles

The future of mobility will look and feel very different.  Want instant access to all your favorite TV shows so you can entertain your children wherever you go?  You got it.  How about access to directions, route changes, and knowledge of the intentions of all the vehicles around you?  Yup, consider it done.

Making this all possible is the world wide web, and the good news is 98% of all new vehicles in 2020 will be connected to the internet, with 100% expected by 2025.  However, along with the advantages of this connectivity, you get a mountain of privacy concerns.

The reality is that companies providing your in-car services – like entertainment and navigation services – will also have access to a slew of additional information about you, including how often you drive over the speed limit, how aggressively you drive generally, and where you go and how long you stay there; and that’s just for starters.  There is even talk of these service companies eavesdropping on your conversations or monitoring your emotions while you drive.

It’s unclear at this point how consumers will be able to keep these vehicles in check, but car companies can learn a great deal from the European Union’s (EU) latest attempts to regulate privacy.

On May 25, 2018, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect, ushering in key protections for consumers. For example, a data subject – that’s you enjoying your connected vehicle services – must be able to withdraw consent as easily as you gave it.

GDPR also forces companies to factor in privacy concerns at the outset of product development lifecycles. This forces companies to think early on about what data they need, and for what purposes.  In other words, they shouldn’t just arbitrarily start collecting data, then figure out how to monetize it down the road.

Consumers should be pleased with these developments, but the real question remains: how well are companies implementing these requirements?

According to a January 2019 Cisco Study, there is still room for improvement.  Only 59% of companies reported meeting the GDPR requirements seven months after it went into effect, even though they could see GDPR coming down the regulatory pipeline years ago.

The report also highlights some consequences for not living up to the GDPR. For starters, companies’ sales cycles suffered; those who failed to meet GDPR requirements saw a 60% delay in their average sales cycle.

Another problem companies faced was a jump in costs associated with data breaches – which it turns out were more likely to happen when GDPR standards were not followed. For instance, there was a 27% higher probability of a data breach costing $500k for companies that didn’t meet GDPR requirements.

GDPR aside, perhaps the best example of the costs associated with ignoring customer privacy concerns is Facebook. In the last year alone, Facebook had the biggest single-day loss in stock market history at over $100 billion dollars and was also forced to enter multi-billion dollar negotiations with the FTC over privacy issues.

You definitely don’t want to drive a mile down that road auto companies.

It’s pretty simple, actually: consumer privacy matters and car manufacturers better start taking this issue seriously.  If we’ve learned anything, customers will flock to companies that take their data, and by default their privacy, seriously.

So, consider this fair warning, auto industry: we want our in-car television service, but that’s all.

Nothing more; nothing less.

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The Best Kept – and Dirtiest – Secret About 5G

The Trump administration unveiled a major push Friday to accelerate the rollout of 5G infrastructure.  Under the new plan, the Federal Communications Commission will release the largest trove of U.S. wireless spectrum ever to be auctioned off.  The FCC also proposed a $20 billion fund to expand broadband in rural America, connecting up to 4 million households and small businesses to high-speed internet.

The table is set; the meal, as in the buildout, comes next.  But the reality is we may not want to sit down for this dinner, because one of the best kept – and dirtiest – secrets about 5G is the energy consumption required to support the network.

“A lurking threat behind the promise of 5G delivering up to 1,000 times as much data as today’s networks is that 5G could also consume up to 1,000 times as much energy,” Dexter Johnson recently wrote for the IEEE Spectrum.

The infrastructure required to support 5G is going to be massive – beyond what most people can comprehend, including industry specialists.

Unlike the current 4G networks which rely on signals that transmit for miles by large cell towers, 5G will need small cell sites every few hundred feet to broadcast its short-range signals.

For some perspective, your typical wireless provider – like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint – have about 70,000 macro cell towers spread across the US.  That’s a huge number, but in return, you get near nationwide coverage.

For a fully built-out 5G network in Dallas, for example, the city will need a whopping 10,000 small cell sites.  That’s right, 10,000 antennas in just one city; keep in mind there are over 19,000 cities in the US.


But it turns out predicting the amount of energy required to power a 5G network is a hard thing to do.

As you deploy more small cells on top of the existing cellular infrastructure, the total energy consumption of the network will grow.  Even though energy consumption of a small cell is lower than a conventional macro cell – which will eventually be phased out – you need many more small cells to provide full coverage.

Exactly how many?  It’s still not clear, so making net 5G energy consumption predictions remains a challenge at this point.

That said, there aren’t a lot of reasons to be optimistic, according to Vetiv and technology analyst firm 451 Research, who recently surveyed over 100 global telecom operators.  More than 90 percent of respondents believe 5G will result in higher energy costs.

This result was also consistent with Vertiv’s internal analysis, which found that 5G could increase total network energy consumption by 150-170 percent by 2026.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however.  Some experts, like Emil Björnso, associate professor at Linkoping University, believe that power consumption should come down on 5G infrastructure over time.

“Just as computer processors become vastly more efficient over time, the analog and digital circuits that are used in base stations will become more efficient,” he recently told the IEEE Spectrum.  “The first generation of 5G hardware will be all about delivering all the new features to the market, but then there will be time to refine the hardware,” he continued.

Bottom line, it’s hard to know who to believe at this point, but let’s be real: this wouldn’t be the first time engineers built a solution to solve one set of problems, only to cause another set of problems.

Mining bitcoin today, for example, consumes more electricity than is generated by all of the world’s solar panels combined.  In other words, as David Wallace-Wells wrote in The Uninhabitable Earth, “In just a few years we’ve assembled, out of distrust of one another and the nations behind the ‘fiat currencies’, a program to wipe out the gains of several long, hard generations of green energy innovations.”

So yes, the 5G table is set, and improvements in speed, coverage, and reliability sound great, in principle.

But if these advances lead to higher energy consumption at precisely the moment in time when the world needs to cut and clean its energy consumption, then maybe this meal isn’t worth sitting for.

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2019 Already a Big Year for “Smart City” Development

Smart cities and all their fancy gadgets – like autonomous vehicles –  won’t magically appear. Cities have to plan for them, infrastructure must be built to support them, and regulations surrounding their operations must be set.

In this regard, if 2018 was the year of the smart city skeptic, as CityLab wrote in December, then 2019 may well be the year of a smart city revival.

For starters, there has been an uptick in smart city strategic planning, according to Roland Berger’s second smart city index, released in early March.

Despite “smart cities” being an agenda item in city halls for many years, the reality is that most cities haven’t been taking a strategic approach to their “smart” status.

This trend appears to be shifting, however. The number of cities with a smart city strategy has almost doubled in the past two years, rising from 87 to 153.

While that is a considerable jump, Roland Berger, a global consulting firm, warns that good strategy is only the first step; implementation is what really counts.

Seen that way, there is still plenty of room for improvement, as 90 percent of those cities surveyed still don’t have an integrated plan with a single entity in charge of coordinating work, and clear responsibilities for the different groups involved.

Cities that do have a central decision-making body, like Vienna with its Smart City Agency or London with its Chief Digital Officer, perform well on implementation and lead the rankings as a result.

Planning aside, 2019 is also turning out to be a pivotal year for the rollout of 5G technology—considered to be the connective tissue for the internet of things, smart cities, and even autonomous vehicles.

Unlike the current 4G networks, which rely on signals that transmit for miles by large cell towers, 5G will need small cell sites every few hundred feet to broadcast its short-range signals.

And if you’ve been paying attention to the headlines, the U.S. and China are locked in a heated battle over who will get the chance to build this next generation of telecommunication infrastructure, as all the major contracts to build out 5G networks across Europe and the U.S. will be signed in the next 6-18 months, according New York Times reporting.

Both superpowers realize that whoever controls these 5G networks has the advantage—in times of war and peace. After all, the 5G system is a physical network of switches and routers, and what is good for consumers is also good for intelligence services and cyberattackers.

To curtail Chinese companies from winning these buildout contracts, the Trump administration has pushed for a ban on Huawei technology in UK, Australia, Poland, the European Union, the Philippines, and a slew of other countries.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell sent a letter to the German government in early March, for instance, threatening to curtail German access to U.S. intelligence if Berlin decides to issue contracts to Huawei, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

While U.S. efforts to ban Huawei 5G technology overseas have stumbled, the US along with Australia, Japan, and Taiwan have all decided to ban and phase out the company’s products.

The Trump administration is doubling down on the Huawei ban by also promoting elements of a leaked memo from the National Security Council to the White House on his 2020 campaign trail, which called for an unprecedented federal takeover of a portion of the nation’s mobile network to pay for and build a nationalized 5G network.

Key to Trump’s domestic strategy is a set of new federal regulations aimed at streamlining 5G infrastructure installation by limiting the authority of US cities.

The FCC in September 2018 passed a controversial set of rules—much of which went into effect on January 15—which limits municipal authorities to charging $270 per cell site per year and also imposes a “shot clock” limiting how long authorities can take to review installation requests.

The FCC argues that the new rules will free up $2 billion in capital for wireless providers to use in underserved areas like rural communities.

The new rules drew immediate protest from cities and counties around the country, and by October over 20 local governments took legal action and filed three separate suits. Each case makes the same basic argument against the FCC, claiming the federal government has overstepped its bounds and undercut local control of infrastructure issues.

Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler has called the FCC order a “land grab against local infrastructure.”

Today, more than 80 cities and counties have filed lawsuits against the FCC, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco is expected to render a decision in the lead case in April.

So to all the smart city skeptics out there, 2019, while it doesn’t scream smart city revolution, is already showing signs of significant smart city evolution.

Not only are cities cranking on their “smart” plans, but the US-China 5G war is heating up and U.S cities are in the throes of challenging – and by default shaping – the next generation of telecom rules that may, or not, accelerate the rapid deployment of key smart city technologies and services.

Oh yeah, and it’s only April.

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Singapore sets standards for Autonomous Vehicles

Singapore has released a set of national standards to guide the safe development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.

The standards, known as Technical Reference 68 (TR 68), were developed under the purview of the Singapore Standards Council (SSC).  Four working groups were formed comprising representatives from the AV industry, research institutions, universities and government agencies to cover four key areas: vehicle behavior, vehicle functional safety, cybersecurity, and data formats.

These efforts were also supported by Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), according to a joint press release.

TR 68 relates to the safe deployment of Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) Level 4 and 5 vehicles.  At these levels, the vehicle is fully autonomous in limited and all driving scenarios, respectively.

“In addition to safety, TR 68 provides a strong foundation that will ensure interoperability of data and cybersecurity that are necessary for the deployment of AVs in an urban environment. The TR 68 will also help to build up the AV ecosystem including startups and SMEs as well as testing, inspection and certification service providers,” said Choy Sauw Kook, director-general at Enterprise Singapore.

Responding to queries from Channel News Asia, the group said that TR 68 could be the first such national standard of its kind in the world.

“Currently, there are related ISO standards and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe regulations on specific topics concerning automated vehicles such as safety, cybersecurity, and messaging formats,” they said.

“Based on industry feedback, this could be the first such national standard in the world,”  the group continued.

Mr. Doug Parker, chief operating officer of Aptiv Autonomous Mobility, said the company is happy to have contributed to the standards as “it will facilitate the commercialization of autonomous vehicles” in Singapore.

Aptiv, a Delphi spin-off, bought US autonomous driving start-up nuTonomy in 2017, which has an office in Singapore.

As a provisional standard, TR 68 will continue to undergo refinement as AV technology matures, with feedback from the industry. The feedback gathered will be used to review TR 68 as it is eventually expanded to cover other aspects of AV development and deployment.

TR 68 documentation can be purchased from the Singapore Standards eShop.

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Let’s Hope Trump Considers Infrastructure a National Security Issue Too

Over and over again, when President Donald Trump has tried to make monumental change to U.S. policy, he has—pardon the pun—trumpeted the same justification: national security.

This tactic has been predictably divisive. Slapping tariffs on U.S. allies under a flimsy national security pretext nearly crippled an already weakened World Trade Organization; the Muslim travel ban to protect Americans from terrorists divided the country and frayed U.S. relations; and the ongoing border-wall debacle has forced hundreds of thousands of federal employees to go without pay.

“It’s his universal solvent,” said Bobby Chesney, a national security law expert at the University of Texas Austin, referring to the administration’s inclination to cite national security to justify major policy moves.[i]

But maybe, just maybe, Trump might also be willing to consider the decaying condition of U.S. infrastructure a matter of national security. And if Congress played along, perhaps we’d finally get a comprehensive infrastructure bill.

It’s actually not a radical proposition: infrastructure—specifically the National System of Interstate Highways—got its jump start as a national security issue.

In 1919, a 28-year-old Lt Colonel and West Point graduate volunteered to join a motor-vehicle caravan across the country. It was just the adventure this young officer needed—he had missed out on all the action in the Great War, assigned instead of combat to overseeing a stateside training camp. His name was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

What was then called the War Department was increasingly excited about the automobiles possibilities as a tool for combat, and a cross country convoy offered a chance to explore the capabilities of these new cars and trucks.

There was just one problem: a car without roads is like a bobsled without ice. “To those that have known only concrete and macadam highways of gentle grades and engineered curves, such a trip might seem humdrum,” wrote the future president in his memoir. “In those days, we were not sure it could be accomplished at all. Nothing of the sort had ever been attempted.”[ii]

In 1904, the United States had a grand total of 141 miles of paved roads, not counting city streets.[iii] By 1916, the federal government threw its weight into road building and created the Bureau of Public Roads, endowed with $75 million to hand out to states to help build interstate highways.[iv] The nations surfaced road mileage nearly doubled between 1914 to 1926, from 257,291 miles to 521,915 miles.[v] Nonetheless, when the caravan set off from Washington DC at 11:15 am on July 71919, the convoy managed to advance only 46 miles that first day; on some days, the convoy progressed only three miles.[vi]

Fast forward 25 years, Eisenhower had risen to become commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, and he was deeply impressed by the German autobahns. Not only was the road network an impressive engineering feat with their banked curves and divided highways, but in wartime it was much more resilient than rail lines, allowing German forces to maneuver behind their lines swiftly even when the railways had been compromised.

When Eisenhower was elected president in 1952, he took those lessons with him to the White House. “After seeing the autobahns of modern Germany…I decided as president to put an emphasis on the kind on this kind of road building,” he later wrote. “The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.”[vii]

Even so, it took a couple of years and several unsuccessful attempts to get Congress to fund a National System of Interstate Highways. Although boosted by public support—72% of American families owned cars by the mid-1950s—there was also the cold war argument that the roads were essential to national defense. If the Russians shot nukes at U.S. cities, the argument went, freeways would help millions of civilians evacuate quickly. To drive home the point, the project was renamed the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.[viii]

Congress finally passed a bill to fund interstates in 1956, an act that would allocate 25 billion to build 41,000 miles of roads. When the U.S. interstate highway system was completed in 1991—nearly 20 years behind schedule—it stretched 46,876 miles and cost nearly $130 billion.[ix] At the time, it was the biggest public works project in American history and for a time the envy of much of the world.

That was then.

By 2015, U.S. road quality was ranked 14th, according to the World Economic Forum, behind countries like the UAE, Singapore and Portugal.[x] America’s roads today are often crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded and are becoming more dangerous. More than $2 trillion is needed to repair 4 million miles of roads in the United States, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.[xi]

Despite this unfortunate turn of events, polarization in Congress this decade has neutered its ability to pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill. Optimist believe 2019 could be different, however.

“Over the past month, it’s been frequently observed that infrastructure is a subject that’s especially ripe for bipartisan legislation,” Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in December. “This administration will continue to work with Congress to enhance existing infrastructure programs.”[xii]

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the new chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he intends to have infrastructure policy legislation ready by summertime. The plan, DeFazio explained, would include a nationwide vehicle-miles-traveled pilot program, which many believe will add additional revenue streams to fund road repairs.

“There’s ways we could make the existing infrastructure carry people better, while we invest in the new infrastructure,” DeFazio said in December.[xiii]

Bottom line, it’s time to get a comprehensive infrastructure bill passed, Mr. President and Chairman DeFazio. And if you need to, use national security as an excuse.

Eisenhower did it.

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USDOT Announces 2018 Build Grant Recipients

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao yesterday announced $1.5 billion in discretionary grant funding to 91 projects in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

View Build Grants on 

The grants are made through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Grants program and support road, rail, transit, and port infrastructure projects across the country.

“There’s a lot of need for investments in infrastructure across the country,” Chao said. “The project awards announced [Dec. 11] are one dimension of ongoing administration efforts to increase improvements of America’s infrastructure.”

The BUILD grants replaced the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which was popular with state and local agencies.

Breaking from the past, the USDOT prioritized rural projects. Though 59 percent of the applications were for rural projects, 62 projects were awarded to rural grant applications.

The TIGER grant program under the Obama Administration, conversely, typically favored urban walking, biking and transit projects.

Among the recipients of this year’s BUILD grants was Brown County, Wisconsin, which was awarded $19,757,899 – for a project estimated to cost $27,828,150.

The project will eliminate the only remaining at-grade intersection along Brown County’s portion of the STH 29 corridor at County Highway VV and U, replacing it with a full-access interchange with sidewalks, stripped on-street bike lanes, and roundabouts at the ramp terminals and nearby intersections.

The project will also install an ITS changeable message board to inform drivers of delays as they enter the Green Bay urbanized area, as well as extends fiber/broadband to rural communities.

“It was super competitive,” said Deputy DOT Secretary Jeffrey Rosen. He said the department received 851 applications, which sought a total of $11 billion–far more than the amount available.

Project applications were evaluated by a team of 222 career staff in the Department and selected based on established criteria.

The criteria included safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental protection, and state of good repair. Further criteria included innovation, such as projects supporting Autonomous Vehicles infrastructure, broadband service to underserved communities, as well as projects that demonstrate partnerships between the public and private sectors, and non-Federal revenue for transportation infrastructure investments.

Chao also expressed hope that, in the coming year, lawmakers will reach a bipartisan infrastructure initiative.

“Over the past month, it’s been frequently observed that infrastructure is a subject that’s especially ripe for bipartisan legislation,” Chao said. “This administration will continue to work with Congress to enhance existing infrastructure programs.”

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Autonomous Vehicles: Planners Aren’t Planning, Just Reacting

When it comes to planning for transformative technologies like autonomous vehicles, urban planners – whose job it is to project and prioritize transportation investments – have fallen behind and the consequences could be severe.

Only one quarter of 38 cities surveyed by a recent Bloomberg study prioritized AV planning in the last year, and fewer than one in ten cities have been working on AVs for more than three years.

These results come on the heels of a National League of Cities report, which conducted a content analysis of city and regional transportation planning documents from the 50 most populous cities, as well as the largest cities in every state – a total of 68 communities.

Only six percent of transportation plans, at that time, even considered the potential effects of driverless technology, and only three percent of plans took into account private transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber or Lyft, even though TNC’s operate in 60 of the 68 markets.

“We have discovered a widening gap between innovation in the private sector, the expressed preferences of citizens, and the visions of city planners regarding transportation investment,” the NLC concluded.

Whether you live in a city or not, these findings should be cause for concern because experts believe connected and automated vehicles could be the key to solving some of our most pressing urban and regional problems.

Take the environment, for instance:  Transportation has surpassed all other sectors as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emission, and 60 percent of all transportation spawned emissions come from light-duty vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But there is hope.  By 2050, connected and autonomous vehicles could lead to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption, according to a recent Energy Information Agency report.  And the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ride-sharing in urban areas, where they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80 percent.

AV tech could also save lives – lots of them.  Car accidents killed 37,461 people in 2016, up 5.6% from 2015, according to the latest data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  That’s the equivalent of one 747 plane crashing every two weeks.

Even the intermediate steps of introducing level one and two advanced driver assist systems, however, is paying off.  Vehicles with automatic emergency braking, for example, see a 40% reduction in rear-end collisions, which is the number one traffic incident in the US.

But urban planners need to be mindful of the darker side of autonomous vehicles as well.

As for congestion, “autonomous vehicles will increase – not decrease – traffic in downtown areas,” according to a recent joint World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group report.  While AVs will reduce the number of cars and overall travel time around cities as a whole, the study discovered the effect is not evenly distributed.  Concentrated downtown areas will potentially see an uptick in congestion.

And if cars get so smart they stop running red lights, speeding, or parking illegally, city officials expect a significant reduction in their city budgets, according to Governing, which conducted the first national analysis of how city revenues might be affected by AVs.

Parking fees are a critical funding source for the Austin Transportation Department, for example, accounting for nearly a quarter of its total budget.  Austin’s transportation director, Robert Spillar was hit by a realization last year.  “Half my revenue for transportation capacity and operations improvements is based on a parking model that may be obsolete in a dozen years,” he told Governing.

Bottom line,  it’s easy to get distracted by the technology –  after all, AVs are the bright new shiny object in the room.  But, we have to remember that it’s not about the technology;  it’s about solving problems.

Engineers build tools to solve problems – that is their contribution to society.  The role of the urban planner, on the other hand, is to find innovative ways to prescribe those tools so that, indeed, problems get solved.

So, planners; start planning.   Harness the good that AV tech has to offer, and mitigate the bad.

Otherwise, you will just be reacting.

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Blockchains, Smart Contracts, and the Future Of Transportation Security

Tomorrow’s vehicles will be computers on wheels, connected to each other, the infrastructure, and the internet.

While officials across the country tout the potential benefits of this increased connectivity, it is also the source of considerable anxiety.  Protecting these vehicles from hackers is turning out to be a hard nut to crack, but some experts at the U.S.DOT believe blockchain could be the magic bullet.

“Cybersecurity is a major concern,” remarked U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao while addressing a packed room at the Autonomous Vehicle Symposium on July 10, 2018.  “The hacking of AV software could result in privacy violations, theft, or even the acquisition of a vehicle by terrorists,” she continued.

If you think Secretary Chao’s warnings are speculative, think again:  there have been 1.4 million vehicles impacted by the first, and only, cybersecurity-related recall, which occurred in 2015 when Fiat Chrysler recalled vehicles after researchers used a wireless connection to turn off a Jeep Cherokee’s engine as it drove.

But what Secretary Chao failed to mention was a recent report by the U.S. DOT John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, which examines various blockchain applications in transportation – including blockchain’s potential for preventing cyber-attacks on automated vehicles.

With vehicles continuously connected to their surroundings, the report notes, “the attack surface for hackers is broad, touching most in-vehicle systems via a wide range of external networks such as Wi-Fi, cellular networks, service garages, toll roads, fuel stations, traffic lights, and aftermarket devices.”

The report’s conclusion: blockchain’s inherent value proposition of immutable transactions, and decentralized consensus through transparent nodes, may have a role to play in certain aspects of securing automobiles form cyberattacks.

For instance, vehicles are produced with more and more electronic control units – from 30 to 100 in automated vehicles – and each unit’s operating system will likely be updated over the air.  When receiving these updates from potentially unsafe Wi-Fi networks at fuel stations, homes, dealers, etc., blockchain can validate the authenticity of these critical peer-to-peer software updates, instead of relying on the central server of an automotive components manufacturer.

Another aspect of AV security resides in the supply chain, where original equipment manufacturers typically integrate hundreds of components they receive from multiple suppliers around the world, often unaware of security flaws in these components.  Blockchain could serve as a trusted ledger of maintenance activities performed on these components throughout their lifetime.

While blockchain is not particularly new technology, its application to the world of transport is relatively nascent.

A blockchain is a digital, openly shared, immutable, and a decentralized log of transactions.  The concept was introduced in the late 2000’s as a virtual scaffolding for transactions using the digital currency bitcoin.

The idea behind bitcoin was to remove banks from financial transactions, by allowing non-trusting members to interact over a network in a verified way without a trusted intermediary.

Every bitcoin transaction is stored on a blockchain that is continuously updated across a network of thousands of computers.  Consequently, if you want to sell a piece of art to your neighbor, for example, you can verify that your neighbor indeed possesses the requisite amount of bitcoin, and execute the transaction, all without the involvement of a bank.

Though blockchains were made for finance, smart contracts make blockchains applicable beyond finance, to industries like transportation.

Smart contracts, according to another Volpe Center report, are software, not actual contracts.  But like a contract, they set parameters that parties to a transaction agree upon.  Terms of the agreement are written directly into lines of code, and smart contracts refer to blockchains as a source of truth.

It is precisely these smart contracts that enable blockchain to, for instance, validate the authenticity of peer-to-peer software updates, or act as a trusted ledger of maintenance activities performed on vehicle components.  The parameters for each of these transactions – or over the air software updates – can be baked directly into the code, and confirmed for their validity.

The technology does have it’s limitations, however, which is why the Volpe report is careful to note that blockchain’s effectiveness in securing automobiles is limited to certain situations.  “The time required for participating mining nodes to come into consensuses of transaction blocks is several minutes,” according to the report.  For critical updates that need to happen in mere seconds, blockchain might not be suitable.  On the other hand, “use of blockchain for overnight updates would be appropriate,” the report concluded.

Regardless of whether or not blockchain is the silver bullet against vehicle cyber-threats, one thing is for sure: traditional enterprise security strategies, which have focused on cutting off outside access, are not optimal for automated vehicles, where secure systems within the vehicle must interact with many other secure systems.

Building a walled garden, figuratively speaking, is no longer an option.  But a chained-linked fence – like blockchain – just might be the solution.

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Transportation – The New Villain in America’s Fight Against Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Transportation and clean air – if you don’t already know – are at odds with one another.

For two years running, transportation has surpassed all other sectors as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to data released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in March.

But there is good news.  The transportation industry is on the brink of a revolution that could dramatically lower the sector’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, and the connected and automated vehicle (CAV) could well be the hero.

To appreciate how serious the problem is, it would help to start with these facts: for decades the top carbon emitter in the U.S. was the power sector, in large part because of coal.  But that all changed in 2016 when, for the first time, transportation outpaced all other sectors – more than agriculture, industry, and yes, even electricity generation – accounting for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

And while cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, and railroads all contribute to transportation sector emissions, light-duty passenger cars and trucks – basically your typical commuter car and pick-up truck –  account for 60 percent of all transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

Needless to say, if you care about the environment, you better start caring about transportation – and I’m not just talking about Toyota Prius owners.

Just as renewables like wind and solar have been steadily decarbonizing the power sector, connected and automated vehicles show tremendous promise when it comes to mitigating transportation sourced greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, in another EIA report, by 2050 connected and autonomous vehicles could lead to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption.  And last year, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ride-sharing in urban areas, where they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80 percent.

Electrification, automation, and ride-sharing – which are all part of the CAV promise – couldn’t come at a better time, especially since they show so much potential in the context of urban congestion.

Studies have found that 30 percent of downtown traffic is caused by people circling around in search of curb parking.  One study even found that 45 percent of drivers interviewed while stopped at traffic lights in Brooklyn said they were searching for parking.

But no study captures the absurdity of downtown traffic more than Donald Shoup’s work in The High Cost of Parking.  In one 15-block business district, Shoup concluded curb parking created 950,000 excess vehicle miles of travel, equivalent to four trips to the moon, wasting 47,000 gallons of gas, and producing 730 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Just chew on that for a second; and once the taste of carbon dioxide subsides, remember that’s all happening in one small business district.  Imagine the cumulative effect of cruising in the U.S.  Shoup, it should be noted, went on to win a National Excellence Award for this body of work, one of the highest decorations awarded by the American Planning Association.

I don’t know about you, but regardless of whether you care about the environment, why spend all that time circling around when you could potentially hop into a connected, automated, and even electric Uber, or Lyft, or Sidecar, or Taxify, or public bus for that matter, and get dropped off at the door?

Sounds pretty good to me.

But like all revolutions, there are no guarantees.  On the heels of the EIA study, the Center for American Progress – which the EIA references – painted a bleaker picture.  The summary of their concerns: “All this potential to reduce emissions could be wasted, and could be made worse than it is even today.”  After all, they argue, what if people love automated vehicles so much that they zip around in them all day, from one place to the next, thus exceeding our current average miles traveled per vehicle?

Indeed, in this scenario, without a significant rise in the electrification of vehicles to offset the risk of increased vehicle miles traveled, such a concern could prove disastrous.

Which is why we must remember that there are no guarantees in this revolution – or any revolution for that matter.  But one thing is for sure: our ability to reduce transportation greenhouse gases depends on strong, well-funded public-private partnerships like the ones found at the Wisconsin AV Proving Ground, where scientist and engineers are working tirelessly to develop the requisite technologies, and business leaders, civil servants, and legislators can congregate to develop policies, best practices, and industry standards that will maximize the potential of this technology.

Just as the future of the U.S. power sector MUST be green, sustainable, and renewable, the future of U.S. transportation MUST be electric, connected, and automated – at least until we discover better solutions.

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Bracing for Impact: Trade Chicken and the Auto Industry

There’s a high stakes game of chicken being played between DC and Beijing right now. The Trump administration and the Chinese government — the drivers — are on a collision course. One must swerve, or both risk severe injury in the crash.

I’m using the car analogy with good reason. A trade war between the US and China — which goes back decades, but just got a nitro boost –- could hold major pitfalls for the automotive industry.

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will place tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese products, outlining more than 1,300 imported goods. China, in turn, hit back Wednesday with their own $50 billion tariff plan, which would make it costlier to import 106 types of American goods.

While an all-out trade war would bruise both economies, the tit-for-tat announcements are not indicative of similar strategies, writes Christopher Balding for Bloomberg View. “Trump’s [tariffs] list was notable for how hard it worked to minimize the pain felt by American consumers and Chinese businesses. It avoided disrupting major sectors, and seemed to focus on products that could easily be substituted.”

Conversely, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration “produced a heavily concentrated list that targeted politically sensitive industries such as planes, beef, and soybeans. Covering only a little more than 100 products, but worth about the same as the US list, these tariffs seemed designed to place severe pressure on key companies and constituencies,” Balding writes.

No matter what the strategy may be for each side, a trade war is always risky business. While tariffs are often imposed to protect domestic industry, the consequences are hard to predict: there’s no telling how the other side will retaliate, and the impact on your own economy can be equally uncertain.

The Trump administration’s list of goods — which excludes many Chinese- made consumer products, like those available for sale at Target or Walmart — is likely to increase costs for American manufacturers that depend on imported parts. The tariffs focus heavily on machinery and high-tech components.

Combine that with China’s retaliation, and the downside on both supply and demand for the US automotive industry starts adding up.

For instance, a trade war could upend suppliers like Lear and Delphi Automotive, which rely heavily on the Chinese market. China accounted for about 25 percent, or $4.3 billion, of Delphi’s $16.7 billion in revenue in 2016, and nearly 12 percent of Lear’s $18.6 billion in revenue last year, according to Automotive News.

Demand for US cars in China would also suffer, according to the New York Times, as China’s tariffs would double the current levy on US-made cars to 50 percent. Under current levies, a Jeep Wrangler costs $30,000 above its US sticker price in China, where it sells for a hefty total of $71,000. Under the proposed regime, the total cost of a Wrangler would rise to over $100,000.

Also at risk are foreign firms that produce in the US, like German-based BMW, which sends 89,000 vehicles annually from the US to China, or Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, which ships 65,000 a year.

The bottom line is that prices will go up for everyone. Jack Hollis, Toyota Motor Corp’s North American head of sales and marketing, said tariffs would mean“we’ll all just have to raise prices … because there’s no way you can absorb” all that extra cost.

And it looks like things could get even worse before they have a chance of getting better.

According to Rick Noack’s reporting in the Washington Post, Trump’s team has been attacking the WTO – the very organization that would usually be expected to calm things down. “In the past, most ordinary trade disputes have been solved through the WTO’s dispute settlement process, which relies on member states to refer their cases to the organization to work out a solution.”

And even though China has used the WTO to accuse the United States of unfairly imposing trade restrictions over the last months, Trump does not appear interested in being dragged into the dispute settlement process. In fact, Noak writes, “Trump appears to be deliberately undermining the legitimacy of that process by saying that his tariffs plan was based on ‘national security’ concerns.”

The Chinese, at this point, don’t seem to be backing down. Their state-backed Global Times struck a hawkish note in an editorial following the US tariffs announcement. “Some US elites stubbornly believe that the Chinese economy’s dependence on the US market is much higher than the US economy’s dependence on the Chinese market. They are pushing Washington to change its trade policy with China based on their vague understanding. But the truth is that the total size of China’s consumer market has already surpassed the US. The logic that China is more dependent on the US is untenable.”

So it looks like if there is to be a détente – and a détente is what we hope for – it’s not going to come from the WTO or China, it’s going to have to come from Congress.

To implement the tariffs on Chinese imports, President Donald Trump is relying on Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the president to bypass Congress and impose tariffs by executive order.

If Congress wants to stop the tariffs, Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, says it has essentially one option: pass a measure with a veto-proof majority that either overturns the action or strips Trump of his authority to impose it.

Unfortunately, Alden “would be astonished” if Republicans in Congress banded together with Democrats “to rescind a core policy of the president.”

So it looks like in the meantime – ladies and gentlemen, spectators and drivers – we’d better brace for impact.

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The Gas Tax Folly and the Future of Infrastructure Funding

There’s a debate raging in statehouses across the United States, and in the US Congress itself: to raise the gas tax, or to not raise the gas tax?

But many elected officials don’t realize the gas tax is a short-term solution with diminishing returns, and that there’s a new approach to funding roads — road pricing, or congestion pricing — that is already showing so much promise that experts believe it will be the sole revenue stream for transportation dollars once it’s widely adopted.

At the heart of the current gas tax debate is this quandary: the Federal Highway Trust Fund – which is primarily paid into by the federal gas tax and serves as the nation’s pool for infrastructure and road repair – is due to run out of money at the end of 2020.

In many states, lawmakers are borrowing money to make basic road repairs after deciding not to raise the gas tax.

The gas tax has certainly fallen behind in terms of inflation. The last time the federal government raised the gas tax, Bill Clinton had just been sworn in as President, the season finale of Cheers was the talk of the nation, and the World Wide Web was born at CERN.

How far we’ve come since 1993, and how far our infrastructure has not. On the last two report cards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, US infrastructure scored a D+ and we don’t seem to have a dime to spend on new, transformative projects.

But here’s the rub. While we need additional revenue for infrastructure, the days of the gas tax being sufficient are numbered. Emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and electric cars will eventually make the gas tax obsolete, according to many experts.

The reason for the fund’s insolvency is simple: when you don’t raise the gas tax for 24 years, inflation gets way ahead of you. And it’s not just a little chunk: accounting for inflation, $100 worth of buying power in today’s economy was $57.62 in 1993.

Further exacerbating the problem, cars are more efficient and don’t use as much gas as they used to.  Car fuel efficiency has roughly doubled in the past 25 years.  Meanwhile, we are driving more than ever.

And, of course, there are two major technological revolutions on the horizon – the automated vehicle revolution and the electric vehicle revolution. Both of these are seen as likely eventualities, but only one of them would need to happen to render the gas tax more or less obsolete.

But Trump, the US Congress, and statehouses around the country are limiting the scope of their vision for funding infrastructure to the gas tax alone.

As recently reported by the Hill, Trump made several off-the-cuff remarks at a meeting with Senators over how to fund infrastructure, suggesting he’d be receptive to a 25-cent increase in the federal gas tax. This apparently confounded everyone in the meeting, because he was expressing what has traditionally been the Democratic argument over the issue.

But his instincts may not have been all that bad in this case. First, Trump will eventually have to address the funds insolvency during his presidency – whether he wants to or not.  Second, proposals to raise the federal fuel taxes have long been championed by certain sectors of the business community, truckers and other groups that have backed Trump strongly. Basically, it’s probably not a coincidence that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which, despite its official-sounding title, is a right-leaning business-oriented lobbying group with a whole lot of clout) recently endorsed a 25-cent boost in the federal gasoline tax — the same figure cited by Trump this week.

While it’s true that we badly need funds right away, we would be foolish to simply raise the gas tax and spend it on short-term repairs. What we really need is an investment in building the infrastructure that will allow for what many analysts see as the most realistic source of income for highways in the future: road pricing.

Road pricing charges motorists for the use of busy roads at certain times, especially to relieve congestion in urban areas. This is basically what we might call “smart tolling”, or, perhaps even better, “fair tolling”. The key is charging based on when, how much and where drivers use the roads.

With the worlds most comprehensive road-pricing system, Singapore could be the model others will try to follow. When they introduced the world’s first congestion charge zone (CCZ) in 1975, it used paper permits to control access to a charge zone. They switched to electronic sensors in 2008.

The logic behind the system is remarkably simple: If average speeds are deemed too slow over a three-month period, then the city raises the cost of entrance.

So far, their approach has been working. According to Woo Sian Boon of Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, congestion has fallen as motorists have switched to less busy routes or to the city-state’s public transport, or traveled at off-peak times when charges are low.

And things could get even better. Singapore will introduce a new system in 2020 that uses cars’ global positioning systems (GPS) to charge motorists more precisely. By using GPS data in algorithms to calculate the amount drivers pay based on distance, time, location and vehicle, drivers will receive real-time information about the cost and congestion of roads, encouraging them to consider other routes.

Other schemes are being tried out in US states such as California, Colorado, and Oregon.

The biggest, OReGO (a pilot program in Oregon), aims to find an alternative to the state fuel tax. Drivers fit devices in their cars that draw data from the engine’s computers. The gadgets record the amount of fuel used and distance driven, and transmit the data to a state server via mobile networks.

The technology enables motorists to be charged based on how far they drive, with each mile costing 1.5 cents, whatever the location or time. Then, the state fuel tax they have paid (30 cents a gallon) is refunded.

Whether or when OReGO will replace the state fuel tax is unclear, but early results have been promising.

Nevertheless, innovative schemes like those we see in OReGO and Singapore, among others, deserve the attention of elected officials all across America. They can provide a revenue stream that will rival the gas tax at its peak efficacy, and that will set us up for the future.

Let’s just hope that Oregonians are right when they say: “As OReGO goes, so goes the nation.” We think they are.

Some facts in this piece, along with a quote from Woo Sian Boon, were sourced from The Economist.

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AV Benefits to Cities: More Than Just Safety

Let’s not devalue the potential benefits to safety offered by autonomous vehicles. In an era where distracted driving is on the rise, so too are crash fatalities, which have spiked over the past two years after a decade or more of steadily declining. AVs have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives per year. That’s extremely important, but it also tends to be the main positive thing we hear about AVs.

We know that urban centers will be the first hosts to autonomous vehicles, and we’ve written a bit about the hurdles planners face in preparing their cities for the technology — and a bit about the improved land use that could result from careful preparation.

But what are some of the other benefits to cities that are less-reported? For answers to that, we turn to a recent Bloomberg Insights report, “Taming The Autonomous Vehicle: A Primer for Cities”, which tells us “the low-cost mobility of AVs could be an important tool for reorganizing and reinventing human services in the future.”

And when we look closely at the data, we can see that this is true across a variety of human services that we wouldn’t typically associate with autonomous vehicles.

Take children and schools, for example. There is a recurring theme in cities around budget shortfalls for educational programs, which, it could be argued, are essential for the nation to grow and stay competitive. According to Bloomberg, 25 million students are transported by a school bus twice a day. It seems like a lot, and it is — and it comes at a cost. In fact, the annual cost for bus transportation per student is close to $1,000 a year! While Bloomberg acknowledges that parental acceptance of automated buses taking their kids to school is an open question, it does underscore the fact that education dollars would be freed up in large numbers by such a transition. In most cities, bus service to and from school is provided free of charge. Imagine what an extra $1,000 per student could do to offer competitive teacher salaries and host innovative educational programs.

There’s more than just the cost-saving element here. As Bloomberg puts it, “AVs could support the restructuring of how education is delivered. Policy reforms that seek to increase choice and specialization in local school systems will increase school-related travel,” which obviously will be a much easier job to handle with an automated bus system. The study also notes that magnet schools, which draw from a much larger area than neighborhood schools, face issues getting their students to school efficiently, especially since they have “lower rates of walking, bicycling, and commuting by car and higher ra s of busing.” Many students attend magnet schools that would amount to a 30-minute commute by car, or more. Rather than being tethered to the end of a bus line that begins dropping off students near the school and ends up in the suburbs where the last students are dropped off hours later, it would be reasonable to have smaller buses or vans for those students, thus allowing more family and homework time for them.

Then there’s health care. Bloomberg cites a recent report by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), which says “an estimated 11 million medical appointments are missed annually in the United States due to insufficient transportation. If AVs could fill this gap, an estimated $19 billion could be saved annually, mostly from entitlement programs.”

It’s obviously about more than just the money here, too – though saving entitlement dollars from going to waste would be a great thing for any city. Bloomberg lays out a chart of the type of appointments that are missed, and here we see the human element: half a million diabetes-related doctor’s appointments per year. Close to two million end-stage renal cancer appointments per year. One and a half million missed congestive heart failure-related appointments per year. And, stunningly, two and a half million missed mental health-related appointments per year. So the money wasted is really nothing compared to the degree of suffering that is caused to millions of people who lack the ability to secure transportation to these appointments.

Bloomberg suggests some ways that medical services could be restructured in the AV era: “unattended medical shuttles are unlikely, as many passengers will still require assistance boarding and de-boarding the vehicle, but the driver might be replaced by a more skilled medical technician who could perform triage and preventative care. As AI-enabled diagnostics, telemedicine, and other innovations improve, many patients could be treated on-board and discharged back at their home. If significant amounts of care could be decentralized in this way, hospitals could be smaller and/or more specialized.”

Hospitals are clogged in many urban centers, so the possibility that mobile, autonomous medical vehicles could actually be the point of care for non-emergency medical issues would be a total game-changer for public health in cities.

Finally, there’s the part of the day that everyone loves to hate: the commute. People are commuting longer distances than ever to work as urban sprawl increases. But with autonomous vehicles, where a person would be able to do some of their work in their car while getting to work much more quickly than they do today, the commute could actually become part of the workday.

And the radius of what could be considered a reasonable commute would improve, too. It’s estimated that the amount of time someone spends on a 30-mile commute to Chicago today would be equivalent to an 84-mile commute from the state of Wisconsin in an autonomous vehicle. Not only will that make workers more efficient, it will expand the job market for everyone.

These are just a few of the benefits that AVs promise to cities and their residents. For more, we recommend you check out the Bloomberg Insight report. And we hope planners are listening: while, as we’ve reported, the amount of work on the horizon for them is significant, the benefits could be truly transformative for the citizens they serve. And that’s what all the talk about AV benefits should focus on. Not only are they expected to be exponentially safer, they also will touch every aspect of city services, freeing up money in budgets and improving the quality of a city top to bottom.

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Now More Than Ever, Auto Safety Must Be Addressed

Two years ago, for the first time in a decade, there were more traffic fatalities than there had been the previous year. Automobile-related deaths had been on a steady decline for a decade prior to that spike.

Now we know that wasn’t just a blip on the radar — it was the beginning of a new trend.

This month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its tally of deadly vehicle crashes in the USA in 2016. The total was 37,461 lives lost — a 5.6% increase from 2015. In total, the spike that started in 2015 represents a 14.4% surge in traffic deaths. In that same time period, pedestrian deaths have shot up an astonishing 21.9%. This all on the heels of two full decades of declining highway fatality statistics.

All this despite what NHTSA acknowledges as an era where “vehicle safety technology is better than ever,” given the adoption of new safety features and safety-related ADAS systems like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping warnings.

It’s not the technology’s fault, however. As always, the fatalities can be chalked up to some form of human error. Speeding, failure to wear seat belts, drunk driving, and distraction — in the form of cell phones, as well as other factors — were all among the forms of human error that ended up costing lives. What’s the worst culprit? Regulators say they don’t really know, that there’s no real explanation for why the death toll is increasing.

Bloomberg has just printed an excellent piece positing one possible answer. The article, “Smartphones are Killing Americans, but Nobody’s Counting”, presents an array of data that suggest NHTSA has missed some key trends about smartphones that correlate very closely with the rising fatality numbers — from 2014 to 2016, the share of Americans who owned a smartphone went from 75% to 81%, all while the way Americans were using their phones was changing. We’ve gone from using our phones to talk, which at least allows us to keep our eyes on the road, to texting, checking and updating social media, and other activities that rely on a user actually looking at their phone.

The data presented by Bloomberg is pretty compelling, and they take NHTSA to task for not linking the possibility of mobile phone use to fatalities, only including the fewer than 500 crashes where the phone use was documented. The argument is hard to deny: by NHTSA’s own reporting, drunk driving hasn’t increased nearly enough to explain the spike in fatalities, nor has speeding. The article also includes the findings of a startup called Zendrive Inc., which analyzes smartphone data for the purpose of assessing safety risks for insurance companies. According to Bloomberg, “in a study of 3 million people, it found drivers using their mobile phone during 88 percent of trips. The true number is probably even higher because Zendrive didn’t capture instances were mounted in a fixed position.”

Zendrive’s CEO said to Bloomberg: “It’s definitely frightening. Pretty much everybody is using their phone while driving.”

Frightening indeed.

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AV Safety Evaluation Report Requirements in AV START Act

The AV START Act, which unanimously moved out of committee and is now headed for a vote in the Senate (a companion version has already passed the US House), has laid out in detail what OEMs must certify in terms of safety for vehicles before introducing them into interstate commerce for testing purposes).

This update is intended to summarize exactly what aspects of vehicles OEMs must certify for safety if and when the act passes (as all indications say it will).

Each report will have to describe in detail how the manufacturer is “addressing, through a documented assessment, testing and validation for each of the subject areas” listed below.

System Safety
*Assurance that hardware and software function as intended
*Means by which “unreasonable risks to safety” would be mitigated in the event of a malfunction
*The vehicle’s sense of “objects, motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians and animals in or crossing the path of travel” via the AV system.

Data Recording – the collection by the AV of information and incident and crash data must:
*Record the occurrence of malfunctions, disengagements, degradations, or failures
*Aid in the analysis of the cause of any of the above issues
*Enable efforts to “work with other entities to address data recording and sharing”
*Comply with collection and sharing requirements laid out in the FAST Act (Public Law 114-94).

*“The minimization of cybersecurity risks” must be outlined in the report, as must include, to the DOT, “exchange of information about any vulnerabilities discovered from field incidents, internal testing, or external security research.”

Human-machine Interface – report must describe:
*The methods of informing human driver/operator regarding the AV system’s functioning, and warning when AV systems are suboptimal
*For Level 3 vehicles, methods to address driver reengagement when AV systems fail
*The use of human-machine interface by people with disabilities – law suggests visual, auditory, or haptic displays, “or other methods.”

*Report must outline “practicable protection for all occupants” given any seating configuration possible in the vehicle.

*Report must detail the capabilities and limitations of the AV system.

Post-Crash Behavior
*Report must describe how the vehicle will behave if sensors or critical systems are damaged in a crash.

Accounting for Applicable Laws
*Report must describe how the AVs will account for all applicable traffic laws and rules of the road, “based on operational design domain”

Automation Detection – report must describe:

*The expected operational design domain in which the AV is designed to operate, including any roadway and infrastructure assets required for its operation, “such as roadside equipment, pavement markings, signage, and traffic signals,” and how the vehicle will respond “if that operational design domain unexpectedly changes.”
*The AV’s expected object and event detection and response capabilities, including behavioral competencies and crash avoidance capability.
*The ability of the AV system to “transition to a minimal risk condition” when malfunctions happen.
*The performance of the vehicle through all testing developed and/or implemented by the manufacturer, including simulation, test-track and on-road testing.

NOTE: This is still not yet law, but indications are that the divisive amendments that were removed from the bill will be taken up separately and that the US House will accept the Senate bill in committee. However, any updates and revisions will be reported, if necessary.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

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AV START Act Unanimously Clears US Senate Commerce Committee

After an early dispute over trucking, the counterpart to the bill that passed in the US House last month —- the AV START Act — has moved out of committee and onto the Senate floor.

The bill, which will broadly expand testing of AVs by permitting the federal government to allow federal safety standards exemptions to manufacturers based on production volume, has earned headlines based on that fact alone. But the bill was heavily amended during its time before the Commerce Committee, and we thought it would be useful to take a look at some of the amendments that were up for debate, as well as less-reported elements of the act.

Teamsters Win This Round, But Battle Isn’t Over

The Teamsters have been vocal about their opposition to this legislation having any application to trucking, and the ensuing debate was the biggest point of disagreement that this bill faced. Following a protracted battle between committee chairman Sen. Thune and an author of the bill, Sen. Peters, the legislation being passed now does not apply at all to trucks. There was an attempt by Sen. Inhofe to tack on an amendment during the committee vote to have it apply to trucking, which he withdrew due to a lack of majority support. However, Sen. Inhofe has declared that he will introduce a standalone bill to apply the new pro-testing rules to trucking. Lobbyists that have been in favor of including trucks in the AV Start Act have expressed concern that a standalone bill would cause a problem by putting the concern over employment and automation that ultimately resulted in striking trucks from this bill in an even brighter spotlight.

During the executive session, Sen. Inhofe strongly stressed that 87% of truck crashes are a result of human error, and that a majority of deadly highway crashes involve large trucks. “Testing trucks differently, when it comes to innovation, would be a major impediment,” he said. He noted that the American Trucking Association, along with most major players in the AV world (specifically mentioning Tesla, Uber, and Google) were all in favor of having the act apply to trucks.

Sen. Young spoke up and addressed the elephant in the room: that “this is about perceived job losses on account of automation. We’ve heard from experts that this can elevate the status of transportation jobs, we should own it and lean into that.”

There was agreement between Sens. Inhofe, Young and Thune that they would continue to press the issue moving forward. However, it’s impossible to say at his point whether or not such a push would be successful. Still, the issue isn’t settled and there is sure to be more debate.

Corridors & Infrastructure Must Be Studied

Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s amendment to the act, which was unanimously accepted, includes a provision that the Secretary of USDOT must initiate a study of AVs on transportation infrastructure as well as mobility, the environment, and fuel consumption, includes impacts on the interstate system, urban and rural areas, and corridors with heavy traffic congestion. The DOT secretary is charged with determining the need for any executive policy or legislative changes, specifically on impacts of, and the interaction between, AVs & infrastructure, including signage and pavement markings, traffic lights, highway capacity and design.

3M Gets a Big Shoutout On Infrastructure

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who worked with Duckworth on the above amendment, is very interested in the issue of how AVs will interact with intelligent infrastructure. (This was a sentiment expressed by many others during the proceedings; many senators said that safety was a legitimate concern because of the lack of V2I infrastructure deployed across the country). She referenced 3M’s work on highway infrastructure. Understandable, since they’re based in Minnesota. Chairman Thune echoed the fact that 3M has been very involved and interested and “has a real desire to work with us”. Other senators nodded.

Safety Advocates Force Smaller Exemption Numbers

The most impactful of Sen. Blumenthal’s many amendments (some of which were accepted) reflected a lobbying campaign by groups that were concerned about AV testing on public roads, and provisions that would allow phased-in sales of AVs. So those numbers have been cut. For the 12 months after the bill’s passage, safety-standard waivers for vehicles allowed for sale or interstate commerce has been cut from 50,000 to 15,000. For the year after that, the cut is from 75,000 to 40,000, and the year after that, 100,000 to 80,000, which will remain the cap for five years at that point.

HAV Data Access Advisory Committee To Be Created

Sen. Inhofe’s amendment, the “HAV Data Access Advisory Committee Act”, restricts any agency of federal government to promulgate any rules regarding ownership, control, or access to any data stored or generated by AVs until a newly-created HAV Data Access Advisory Committee is able to make a report.

The committee, which must be formed no later than 180 days after the bill becomes law, will be a forum for stakeholders to discuss and make recommendations to Congress regarding AV-generated data ownership, control and access. Within two years they’ll make recommendations (those that are supported by 2/3 of voting members) and are specifically charged with considering “motor vehicle safety, intellectual property protections, compliance with vehicles under the motor vehicle safety act, consumer privacy, cybersecurity, confidential business information related to AV systems, public safety and transportation planning.”

Sen. Markey saw a similar amendment be adopted, which calls for the creation of a Motor Vehicle Privacy Database via NHTSA, where individuals can publicly access and easily search for any personally identifiable information on themselves gathered by AVs, and to learn the period the information will be retained and when and how it would be destroyed.

Drivers Still Liable

The AV START act states that “compliance with a motor vehicle safety standard does not exempt a person from liability in common law.” So, at least for now, the drivers of safety-standard-exempted AVs could be held legally liable for any accidents that occur during testing until an updated law is passed.

SAE Standards Are Officially “the” Standards

Get used to talking about AVs in numeral terms: the section of the bill requiring automakers to report on their safety standards to NHTSA added the language “including its SAE level”, so it’s now a sure bet that we’ll be talking Level 3, Level 4, Level 5 from here on out.

US-Based Production and Solutions Preferred

Sen. Udall’s amendment requires the DOT secretary to initiate a study on encouraging manufacturing within the US of automated driving equipment, intelligent transportation solutions, and other equipment, including hardware and processors. The study is meant to focus on how grant money and other funding sources could incentivize US companies to produce enough to be world leaders on everything AV-related.

These are just some of the highlights. The bill, which is seen as a shoo-in to pass the Senate, will still need to be reconciled between the House and Senate before it reaches the President’s desk, so while these amendments likely represent the act taking shape in preparation for reconciliation and enactment, we will continue to monitor the progress of the AV START Act and report any significant changes.

Sources used for this update: the content of a live-streamed executive session, the text of the AV START Act, and the text of amendments, all of which were provided by the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation’s website.

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Metropolitan Areas + Autonomous Vehicles – Congestion = Savings

What would Chicago-area businesses and governments do with an extra 7 and a half billion dollars a year?

As business owners know, there are hidden costs everywhere, and not always in the most obvious places. One of the most significant hidden costs is caused by something people already hate regardless of its financial impact: traffic congestion. And according to a report authored by Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, congestion costs could be as high as 7 and a half billion dollars per year.

That’s such a huge number, it’s almost hard to believe. But when you think about it a bit, it starts to make sense. Sitting in traffic burns gas and causes wear and tear on vehicles, which is obviously worth money, and also wastes time, which is also valuable, if slightly harder to quantify. When you have entire counties gridlocked in traffic all at once, that’s a lot of money going down the tubes at once. And businesses are forced to pass part of this cost on to the customer in order to remain profitable, so even if you aren’t a business owner or an elected municipal official, this problem affects you.

Cook County is the most-affected county in the nation by the total cost of congestion. The statistic bears repeating: 7.5 billion dollars a year lost in a county of 5.2 million people. That’s around fifteen hundred dollars per person every year! Of course, the cost isn’t distributed evenly — much of the brunt falls upon business owners that need to move goods through the country, and executives, whose time is worth quite a bit dollar-wise, who have to make it to meetings and get stuck in traffic when they could be fulfilling time-sensitive duties. Milwaukee County is also in the top 10 counties in the US when it comes to the dubious distinction of “most money lost to congestion”. When you consider the fact that fuel and wear-and-tear costs are exponentially worse as congestion gets worse, being in this particular top-ten is a really unattractive place to be.

And it’s not expected to get better on its own. In fact, it’s expected to get a lot worse on its own. Consider the following factors: A 3.8 percent increase in police-reported crashes this past year — the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years. Annual GDP growth of 2.5 percent. Massive growth in e-commerce sales. An anticipated 2 billion people added to metro areas around the world by 2050. And ever-more dramatic weather impacts.

The answer to this lies, at least in part, in autonomous vehicles. We can’t know the exact numbers of how much will be saved when all vehicles are autonomous, we can only say that most — if not all — of congestion costs will disappear. But that’s a long way off from now. We can, however, take heart in a recent study covered by the MIT Technology Review. The study showed that just one autonomous vehicle controlling its speed intelligently in a traffic jam “reduces the standard deviation in speed of all cars in the jam by around 50 percent, and the number of sharp hits to the brakes is cut from around nine per vehicle per kilometer to around 2.5 — and sometimes practically zero.” What difference does that make? “Because fuel use increases when cars slow down and have to get back up to speed, the presence of the AV reduces fuel consumption … In fact, the savings is as much as 40 percent when averaged across all the cars in the traffic flow.”

By the way, 40 percent of $7.5 billion is $3 billion. And that’s just the expectation of the change caused by one AV in a traffic jam. What would be the difference with dozens of them driving along a smart corridor? That’s a figure that could be game-changing when the dollar amount is known. And why not start with the county that loses more than any other to congestion issues?

Let’s look at the trucking industry for a good perspective on this. The industry currently loses 996 million hours in delay per year. That delay is the equivalent of 362,243 commercial drivers sitting idle for an entire working year. Trucking costs per hour average around $64, so when you put the numbers together, the losses the industry takes as a result of congestion amount to roughly $63.4 billion. That’s close to $6,000 a year per truck.

When truck routes go through Illinois, the industry loses $2.67 billion a year — fourth-worst in the nation. The Chicago metro area accounts for $2.1 billion of those losses. Wisconsin takes a big hit, too — $1.74 billion a year.

The trucking industry, luckily, has a head start when it comes to automated and connected vehicle technology. The truck platooning model, which was deemed “near-market ready” by ATRI early last year, was found by that group to reduce fuel use by about 10%. That alone already represents savings that more than make up for the loss per truck per year in congested traffic. But that’s just for first-gen platooning, where the following-truck gap remains fairly conservative, in light of the new technology and lack of 5G communications. Studies have shown that closing that gap increases efficiency, though they’re not entirely certain what the exact figure will be when platooning can be optimally employed. Even as dictated by current numbers, though, the $6,000 per truck per year lost by these companies turns into a significant surplus of up to $15,000.

Even going by the conservative estimate, though, we’re talking millions of gallons of fuel saved per year. That’s not only a statistic that would come as wonderful news to trucking companies, to whom fuel represents a staggering 41% of operational costs, it’s also a savings that gets passed on to the companies’ clients — American businesses and manufacturers. And, no less importantly, it makes a major positive impact on the environment — trucking represents a full 10% of total US oil use.

So we know that platooning, in its most basic form, saves more than enough money to make up for the trucking industry’s congestion-related losses. And we also know that a single AV in a traffic jam cuts those costs almost in half for all vehicles involved.

What we don’t know exactly is how much more money, on top of those amounts, would be saved on a corridor with dedicated lanes for platooning, for autonomous vehicles, and equipped with low-latency V2I communications capabilities to help connected vehicles maximize current systems like automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. But the upside is so high, especially in a region hit hardest by congestion’s costs, that the time has come to find out.

Sources used in this article include ATRI’s “An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking, September 2016”

The American Transportation Research Institute’s White Paper: “Heavy Truck Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control: Evaluation, Testing, and Stakeholder Engagement for Near Term Deployment, Phase Two Final Report”

ATRI’s “Cost of Congestion to the Trucking Industry, 2017 Update”

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Looking Ahead: How AVs Will Impact Truck Drivers

When Americans talk about robots taking their jobs, they’re often thinking of factory work. Lately, however, the conversation has a new spin. “Autonomous trucks are taking drivers’ jobs,” so the claim goes.

It’s important to note that while this concern is being presented as a problem that’s already rearing its head, autonomous trucks aren’t taking drivers’ jobs — yet. That said, there is some truth to it: if we’re looking several years down the line, the concern is real, and we need to develop a plan.

1.7 million Americans are employed as truck drivers — making it one of the most common professions in the nation. But lately, truck driving jobs aren’t easy to fill. The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates a shortage of about 40,000 drivers that could grow to about 240,000 by 2022.

The reason for the shortage is not entirely clear — trucking companies say that they’re having trouble replacing older workers entering retirement with young recruits, who seem less interested in the profession than previous generations — but we can all agree that driving a truck for a living is a tough job. The hours are long, and drivers spend the vast majority of their time alone. Not to mention the declining pay: in 1980, the average trucker in America was making an annual salary (adjusted for inflation) of more than $110,000. Today, truckers make an average salary of about $40,000 a year, all while putting in longer hours and sometimes having to overwork themselves as they compete with other drivers for the most profitable routes.

But the driver shortage isn’t expected to last long, and yes, that is the likely result of autonomous truck technology. A report from the International Transport Forum says that 70% of truck driving jobs could be eliminated by 2030 because of self-driving trucks. A White House report, issued on December 16 of last year, estimates job losses between 80% to 100%. As with many issues surrounding AVs, there’s no consensus on issues of timing. For instance, a Goldman Sachs analysis, cited by Business Insider, suggests that AV adoption will be slow for several decades and significant driver losses due to technology are perhaps 25 years off, which is clearly at odds with the ITF report.

How, you ask, is this shift going to change the industry and the truck driving profession?

In the future, truckers could work more like airline pilots, maneuvering big rigs onto the highway and then flipping on the autopilot for most of the trip, taking over again only when they have to get off the main route. But that doesn’t exactly explain the job loss. After all, there is still be a driver in the cab.

The explanation has to do, in large part, with the birth of a new technique — truck platooning —- which has already been proven to reduce fuel consumption dramatically in many studies. In fact, it’s expected to be the first “market-ready” connected-vehicle technique. The reason for its efficiency: aerodynamics. Following one another more closely than can be done safely by human drivers, wind resistance is reduced, making trucks more efficient.

A common scenario — involving trucking fleets and independent truckers alike — is that trucks would merge onto the highway and meet up at a station (think of the weighing stations that already exist). At this point, a lead truck is selected — note that this truck is expected to have a driver in it for the foreseeable future — and is “wirelessly connected” to a platoon of several other trucks, which are all automated and set up to receive precise instructions from their connected leader. Now, the platoon is ready to barrel down the highway – spaced by mere feet – to the next station, where trucks can be removed and added from the chain based on delivery points.

All of a sudden, what used to be a truck caravan starts to look more like a digital train, requiring only one driver, maneuvering in a reserved lane, which could be thought of as a railroad track. Point is, autonomous trucks will not be operating on the roads of today; they will be operating on the roads of tomorrow and, indeed, those roads look very different.

The workforce will look different too: there will be fewer drivers, but they will need to be technically savvy, able to troubleshoot the connected system that will make the platoons possible. And remember, the trucks that are following the leader are expected to be driverless before long. If all goes to plan, even the lead truck may be driverless after several decades of perfecting the process.

For technology enthusiasts, that all sounds exciting. But we must remember, when talking about job loss, we are ultimately talking about human beings, people whose dignity and well-being are at stake. So we need to be thinking ahead.

It’s easy to point out problems we may face in the future. What’s not as easy —- but incredibly important —- is beginning a dialogue about what can actually be done to offset the issues we can foresee.

There was an interesting op-ed in the LA Times recently that took this problem head-on. In it, several solutions were offered. For instance, we could already be thinking about adopting retraining programs for affected drivers. These programs have worked with some success when dealing with offshoring in other industries. We could also reconsider unemployment insurance. Laid-off drivers could receive adjustment assistance just like factory workers who lost jobs because of imports. And hey, we could get creative with how we fund these programs. As autonomous vehicle companies press Congress to enact laws that create a nationwide green light and a favorable regulatory framework for these vehicles, in exchange Congress could levy a tax on each driverless mile to finance the retraining, adjustment assistance, and/or unemployment insurance.

My point is not to advocate for or against these solutions, but simply to say that we could — and we should — be thinking ahead. While autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to do great things — increase safety, help the environment, and even mitigate driver shortages — it’s like any other major technological advancement, it comes with changes built-in, and not all change is easy.

The good news is that we can see what’s coming, and we have plenty of time to properly prepare for the future. It’s clear that autonomous vehicles will be a boon to industry across the world, but we can also take steps to make sure it’s not a body blow to the American workforce at the same time.

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SELF DRIVE Act Passes Overwhelmingly in US House

In today’s political climate, it’s shocking when an important bill passes in the House with a unanimous voice vote. Especially when it comes to federal regulations. But it just happened, and it’s a big deal for autonomous vehicle enthusiasts.

The Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act isn’t a law yet — it still has to make it through the Senate and, after that, the joint Congressional reconciliation process. But the Senate Commerce Committee is currently working on a similar legislative package, and previously-debated measures on the Senate floor have shown that they’re ready to pass some AV legislation. One thing’s for sure: this Congress desperately wants to find some legislation they can actually pass, and the AV bill’s broad bipartisan support makes it very likely to wind up on the President’s desk for a signature.

So what does this bill do exactly?

The quick take: Katie McAuliffe, a contributor to TheHill, put it succinctly: “The act correctly delineates the purview of federal versus state regulation for autonomous vehicles. In short, federal regulatory bodies have authority when it comes to the car, while states have authority when it comes to the driver.” That’s it in a nutshell. But let’s look a little more closely at what the newly-defined federal and state roles are and what comes next.

The new federal role: Assuming all goes as expected and a version of this bill becomes the law of the land, say goodbye to the patchwork of different state regulations for autonomous vehicle testing and manufacturing. NHTSA will be in charge of setting safety, performance, equipment and design standards for AVs, and automakers will be able to deploy up to 100,000 test vehicles apiece (read: vehicles that don’t meet federal safety standards), but only if they submit comprehensive safety assessment certifications to NHTSA and get its approval. Manufacturers will also have to develop cybersecurity measures and privacy protections.

The new state role: States will still have a lot of issues to figure out: pretty much everything that has a “human element”. The state responsibilities will include licensing, registration, insurance, qualifications for operation, law enforcement, crash investigation, congestion management and emissions inspections. They’ll also have oversight over sale, purchase, and repair of AVs.

What we’re still waiting for: Sec. Elaine Chao will release revised guidelines on AVs soon, which will update the Obama administration’s now-dated guidelines. NHTSA will also need to release AV-specific safety standards — but the position of NHTSA chief has yet to be filled by the Trump administration. (NHTSA does have acting administrators and an acting executive director in the meantime).

Some concerns remain: Axios points out that the vehicle doesn’t address autonomous trucks specifically, and could have the side effect of hastening their deployment, but that the Senate is considering holding a hearing on that issue specifically. Also noted by Axios was the lack of clarity in the government’s role enforcing standards for cybersecurity, which the House bill asks manufacturers to address — but judging by a set of bipartisan principles for AV legislation released by U.S. Senators Thune (R-SD), Peters (D-MI) and Nelson (D-FL), which names cybersecurity as one of the chief areas of concern for both parties, it seems likely that specific language will be added as the Senate takes over the effort.

And, finally, Axios raises the concern that as the 2018 midterms approach, the bipartisan spirit surrounding this measure might dissolve. While that does have a familiar ring to it, there are plenty of examples throughout recent electoral history where Congress managed to advance non-controversial legislation while it fell into gridlock on other issues. Both parties seem to be anxious to get these regulations into place, and neither party stands to gain anything but the ire of the public by choosing to slow it down. The fact that this passed the House with a unanimous voice vote speaks volumes, and it appears that the safe bet is that these proposed regulatory powers will become law before any national election approaches.

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Questioning Popular Autonomous Vehicle Assumptions

As a transportation professional, I’m a bit overwhelmed by proliferating articles and technical papers dealing with autonomous vehicles. And I’m increasingly distressed by the growing disparity between what appears in the popular media and what’s in the technical literature, because the former is what seems to motivate legislators and planners. So here are five challenges to the mass-media version of our AV future.

AVs will save millions of lives. Certainly, we all hope this will prove to be the case. But it’s not as simple as many people seem to think. As Washington Post reporters Michael Laris and Ashley Halsey III explained in a long feature article (Oct. 18, 2016), how will we know how much safer AVs are? Only about half of all crashes are reported to police (as opposed to insurance companies), and some people avoid doing the latter to avoid a possible premium increase. The former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mark Rosekind, said that widespread use of AVs should not proceed until they were demonstrated be “much safer” than conventional vehicles, but without comprehensive data on actual accident rates, it’s difficult to make such a comparison. Also, researcher Tom Dingus of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute points out that alert, attentive, sober drivers are very low risk. It’s drunk drivers plus very young and very old drivers that drive up the averages. In addition, the most promising form of vehicle automation relies on machine learning—but even the experts in that field have no idea what or how the machine actually learns. Matthieu Roy of the National Center for Scientific Research in France says that, “You would never put [a machine learning] algorithm into an airplane because you cannot prove [to regulators] the system is correct.”

AVs Will All Be Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). A January 3, 2017, Wall Street Journal news article called “Wiring Streets for Driverless Cars” presented this conventional wisdom, which is being promoted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration with its Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) efforts. Reporter Paul Page touted new digital signs on a freeway near Washington, DC “as a first step toward what highway planners say is a future in which self-driving cars will travel on technology-aided roads lined with fiber optics, cameras, and connected signaling devices.” But unlike lower-brow media, Page went on to note that many billions of dollars would be needed to wire more than 4 million miles of paved roads and 250,000 intersections. If AVs depend on that kind of infrastructure investment, don’t bet on an AV future. Fortunately, most AV researchers don’t think anything like that is necessary. AVs, especially those with full (Level 5) autonomy, will need to be self-sufficient even in alleys, on gravel roads, and on countryside dirt roads.

Full, Level 5 Autonomy Will Be Here within a Decade. In addition to academic researchers such as UC Berkeley’s Steven Shladover who projects Level 5 (all types of roadway, all weather conditions, no driver needed ever) as a 2075 phenomenon, a number of technology-literate commentators have begun throwing out caution flags. For example, telematics blogger Michael L. Sena headlined a recent issue of his The Dispatcher: “SAE Level 5 Driverless Cars Are Not Just Around the Corner.” He took issue with recent reports claiming that Transport as a Service (requiring Level 5) will be ubiquitous by 2030 nationwide. He also cited a thoughtful analysis by The Economist, headlined “Forget hype about autonomous vehicles being around the corner—real driverless cars will take a good deal longer to arrive.” Wired’s Aarian Marshall had a piece in February explaining “Why Self-Driving Cars *Can’t Even* with Construction Zones,” discussing very real problems with machine learning. He also noted an announcement by Nissan that its current plans don’t include Level 5; instead, they assume a human occupant who can take over control when the AI cannot cope, and the human can contact a Nissan call center for help.

Fleets Are the Future, Not Owned AVs. A recent “analysis” by Governing magazine, summarized in the August issue, sounds the alarm that cities’ budgets are seriously at risk from the impacts of the transition to AVs. For the largest 25 cities, the magazine’s team collected data on parking revenues, fines and citations, traffic camera fines, gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees, etc. Many of these cities each year generate several hundred dollars per capita from these vehicular revenues, much of which could disappear in the AV future, warns the article. Except—much of the impact stems from the assumption that shared fleets of robo-taxis replace individually owned cars, thereby eliminating most urban parking requirements (and hence parking revenue). Another built-in assumption is that most or all AVs will be electric, which is hardly a given. Robotaxis and individually owned AVs that can go elsewhere after dropping the owner off require Level 5 automation, which is hardly a near-term phenomenon. So city officials should not begin losing sleep over plummeting parking revenues.

AVs Will Reduce Congestion. As I’ve pointed out in previous issues, the majority view among AV researchers is that the transition to AVs will increase vehicle miles of travel (VMT), for a variety of reasons including bringing personal vehicle autonomy to millions who are unable to drive today, as well as reducing the time cost of commuting. But a related idea remains—that due to reduced distance between AVs on roadways, existing roads will be able to handle greater volume with less congestion. But even popular media are starting to consult experts who disagree. Business Insider recently interviewed Lew Fulton, co-director of UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies. He expressed particular concern about zero-occupant (Level 5) vehicles being a new source of increased congestion. Such vehicles, programmed to run errands, deliver packages, etc. will lead to far more cars on the road. Fulton calls them “zombie cars.”

Before leaving these points, I want to recommend a more thoughtful article. Despite its misleading title, “The Road Ahead for Connected Vehicles” (when the article actually discusses AVs, not CAVs), is a sober discussion by industry experts—established auto industry people, high-tech AV pioneers, and consultants. It’s a product of Wharton’s Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation, which has absorbed the former MIT International Motor Vehicle Program. If you have time to read just one article to get a more balanced view of this challenging area, this one is hard to beat. (

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Bills, Bills, Bills: A Look at the AV Bills Currently Moving Through Congress

There’s been a lot of commentary in the media lately about the fix this Congress is in: they haven’t managed to pass any bills of substance, and time is running out before they take a long recess.

Well, there’s good news, and it’s gone relatively unreported. There are over a dozen bills moving through the House and Senate, winning bipartisan support and looking like shoo-ins for passage into law.

What do these bills all have in common? They all have to do with autonomous vehicles.

Maybe part of the reason they’re not getting much coverage is the sheer number of them. What reasonable person has time to sit down and read 13 bills?

So let’s make it easier on everyone and review exactly what each of these bills is meant to do.

  • The Partial Autonomous Vehicle Exemptions (PAVE) Act will increase the number of FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) exemptions the Secretary of Transportation is allowed to grant to a company — going from 2,500 to 100,000. These exemptions only are available to companies undergoing field evaluation or development “of a new motor vehicle safety feature providing a safety level at least equal to the safety level of the standard.” This means manufacturers and other companies will be able to test 100,000 vehicles per year that, for example, don’t have a steering wheel or pedals — because the safety promised by AVs is above and beyond current motor vehicles.
  • The Renewing Opportunities for Autonomous Vehicle Development (ROAD) Act will expand renewals for the aforementioned exemptions to last five years and authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to extend exemption renewals upon request.
  • The Disability Mobility Advisory Council Act directs the DOT Secretary to create a Disability Mobility Advisory Council, which will submit recommendations to Congress and the DOT Secretary about ways in which the federal government can advance mobility access to disabled communities. The council will be composed of representatives from the disability community as well as academics and members of the private sector.
  • The Improving Mobility Access for Underserved Populations and Senior Citizens Advisory Council Act is similar to the above bill, with a council that will provide recommendations on how AVs can enhance mobility for seniors and populations underserved by traditional public transportation.
  • The Highly Autonomous Vehicle Cybersecurity Advisory Council Act directs the DOT secretary to — you guessed it — create a third council, this one to advise Congress and Transportation on cybersecurity performance metrics for AV deployment, testing, and software updates. One of the areas in which the council will issue recommendations is “supply chain risk management”, so expect some prominent private-sector heavyweights on this council.
  • The MORE (Maximizing Opportunities for Research and Enhancement of) AVs Act will allow manufacturers to introduce non-FMVSS compliant vehicles into interstate commerce, provided they agree not to sell the vehicle when testing is complete. It would additionally expand the law to allow equipment manufacturers and distributors to do the same. What does this translate to? It means that AV testing won’t be limited to the state where the test vehicles are made. In other words, we hope to see Tesla, GM, and whoever else is interested in a good test track here at the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds.
  • The INFORM (Increasing Information and Notification to Foster Openness Regarding Autonomous Vehicles to States) Act directs NHTSA to have procedures in place for ensuring that states are informed when NHTSA or DOT issue exemptions for highly autonomous vehicles that will be deployed or tested in their state. In other words, no surprises. It also formally defines AVs to allow for smoother rulemaking going forward.
  • The DECAL (Designating Each Car’s Automation Level) Act requires manufacturers to place “highly visible” stickers on vehicles for sale that indicate the vehicle’s level of automation. (Only levels 3, 4 and 5 are required to bear these stickers).
  • The EXEMPT (Expanding Exemptions to Enable More Public Trust) Act expands the DOT Secretary’s authority to issue FMVSS exemptions for AVs that would either A) promote public adoption and acceptance, or B) increase mobility for people with disabilities. However, manufacturers must prove to the DOT that the vehicle is as safe or safer than vehicles that comply with existing FMVSS.
  • The MEMO (Managing Government Efforts to Minimize Obstruction) Act sets clear boundaries between NHTSA and the Federal Trade Commission, essentially to keep them out of one another’s lane regarding AV cybersecurity. The bill would direct the heads of NHTSA and the FTC to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would ward off overlap and duplication in their security oversight capacities.
  • The SHARES (Sharing Autonomous Vehicle Records with Everyone for Safety) Act would establish another council — yep, a fourth — that will develop a framework and practices for developers of Ads to share event, incident and crash data without risking that information being disseminated publicly or having to worry about proprietary information being leaked. If enacted, the council would be required to submit recommendations to the DOT Secretary and Congress within two years.
  • The AV PROMPT (Pre-Market Approval Reduces Opportunities for More People to Travel Safely) Act would prohibit the DOT secretary from establishing a pre-market approval or pre-certification process: in other words, USDOT would not have to assess the safety of any given vehicle before it is manufactured and/or sold.
  • The GUARD (Guarding Automakers Against Unfair Advantages) Act is designed to prevent leaks of proprietary information. This bill would require NHTSA, by law, to to keep secret any information about collisions, cybersecurity or vehicle design provided to them by manufacturers. This ensures OEMs and Tier 1s will be able to do all the testing they want without bad press coming (for example) from one failed test out of hundreds.

One more. Ready? It’s a good one.

  • The LEAD’R (Let NHTSA Enforce Autonomous Vehicle Driving Regulations) Act would “establish NHTSA as the sole regulatory authority” for regulating AVs and expressly prohibits other government entities from prescribing motor vehicle safety standards for AVs. However, it would allow states and their political subdivisions to prescribe safety standards for AVs and AV components that the state purchases for its own use.

Whew. That’s a lot to chew on, right?

Clearly, the legal landscape for AVs is on its way out of is coming into view for lawmakers and federal government officials. While we may not necessarily think every one of these bills is essential, we applaud Congress for actually working together toward something constructive. And we’re excited about the prospects for more testing and for allowing vehicles to go interstate for testing.

Wisconsin features some of the craziest weather swings in the nation, as well as a company that’s been in the LiDAR/geospatial mapping business for quite some time now along with great test tracks for the Proving Ground. We hope faraway manufacturers take note and decide to take their 100,000 prototypes for a spin on our courses. Especially as the winter rolls around, we expect manufacturers will want to take a look at how their prototypes perform in our snowy and icy season.

So come on down, Tier 1s and OEMs! The federal government wants you to test, and we have just the right lab in which you can carry out your previously-forbidden experiments.

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The Time Is Right For ADAS Testing

Have you seen this commercial? It starts with a woman in standing in the middle of the street, gazing up at a sky-written marriage proposal. We see that she’s in an urban area. A car comes quickly into the frame and even more quickly stops, as the words “automatic emergency braking” appear on-screen. Then the camera pulls back to show that we’re in a car going quite fast on a desert highway, with a couple watching this demonstration of emergency braking on their smartphone. “Wow, good to know we have automatic brakes,” says the woman. The man, entranced by the video, swerves out of his lane, which is corrected. “We have lane departure assistance, too,” he says with a smile.

There are a lot of problems with this ad, and those of us that are excited about the AV age should be paying attention to it and ads like it. Because the fact is the public does not currently trust these automatic driver assistance systems (ADAS). J.D. Power recently released the results of a new survey that shows “basic semiautonomous features such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking and lane-departure assist notched the largest increase in complaints this year.” The analysis argues “these complaints signal an uphill battle … if car buyers aren’t convinced that the basic building blocks of self-driving cars work seamlessly now, they won’t buy a self-driving car in the future.”

That should concern anyone with a stake in the ultimate success of autonomous vehicles. And the public may be correct to not trust them at present — these AAA statistics show that the efficacy of automatic braking systems is iffy at best. Automatic emergency braking, for example, only has a shot at working if the driver is going fairly slowly. There’s little consensus over what sensors should be used for which systems — that conversation is still ongoing — and there are other unknowns when it comes to ADAS that suggest many of these systems are not ready for prime-time.

So why are car companies pushing these systems so quickly? The ad described above shows they’re aware of the limitations of their systems. The car that narrowly misses a pedestrian is going slowly, but we immediately cut to a car that’s going quite fast — a sneaky way to make the AEB system appear useful on the highway, when according to AAA, it’d be somewhere between 9 and 40% effective when traveling at 45 miles per hour.

These companies are caught in an awkward position. They are aware of the need to maintain public trust once it’s time for level 3 and 4 autonomous vehicles. But they also need to continue to turn a profit in the meantime. So we can understand why they’re anxious to get these systems to market, but the systems need more than the small-sample public testing AAA carried out. There is still debate, for example, on whether lidar or radar is more effective for automatic emergency braking. Doesn’t it seem like this should be discerned before cars touting the feature are deployed? Shouldn’t consumers get systems that work as advertised? To ADAS our way to AVs, shouldn’t consumer trust be at least as valuable as a car sale?

We understand the current plight of the OEMs — the genie is out of the bottle, ADAS systems are on the road, and they are features that have been proven to be desirable, at least in theory, to consumers. Nobody wants to get left behind when it comes to new and cool features. This is where the Wisconsin Proving Grounds comes in. By testing ADAS systems at the Proving Grounds, OEMs can simultaneously ensure the safety of their systems and — since they’d be doing so out in the open — gain public trust that is so crucial to their business model, both currently and in the near future.

The time is right. It’s about to get easier to “ADAS our way to AVs” in terms of testing AV systems without needing an entire autonomous prototype. According to recent reporting, the House and the Senate are both advancing legislation to make AV testing easier on manufacturers, following hearings and meetings with over 100 industry stakeholders. There are over a dozen bills advancing through committees right now, but as far as the proving grounds go, we’re thinking this will help speed things along: lawmakers are looking to “raise the federal cap on the number of exemptions that can be granted to driverless carmakers who want to design and test cars without traditional automobile features.” Currently, while all cars are required to have steering wheels and pedals, federal waivers can only be granted a certain number of times per year for testing purposes, which constrains the ability of manufacturers to conduct serious testing. With that regulation eased, we think we’ll see a lot of ADAS action at the proving grounds.

So, our message to auto manufacturers: this is your moment. Public opinion may be turning against some of the early iterations of autonomous features in vehicles, but there’s a clear path toward righting the ship. It’s coming at just the right time, with a confluence of regulations and test site availability opening the doors to a new intensity in regimes for testing ADAS systems. And with a growing public attention to all things AV — which is sure to result from the big legislative push that’s ongoing — it seems pretty clear the public will take notice. When that starts to happen and testing shows, for example, improvements to automatic emergency braking systems, those commercials are going to connect as well as they were meant to in the first place.

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How Will AVs Navigate Signalized Intersections?

Autonomous vehicles promise such a degree of improved safety that we sometimes picture them as all-powerful, faultless machines. To a large extent, they will need to be. But how can we be sure they’re safe even in the most risky situations?

Consider the signalized intersection. Since their appearance at the end of the 19th century, traffic lights have been the primary mode of granting access to road intersections. However, traffic statistics show that, despite their claim to only a tiny percentage of road area, intersections are where 25% to 45% of all traffic collisions occur. Why is this?

When you think about it, it starts to become obvious. Intersections bring together cars traveling in all directions and then asks them to proceed through in groups timed by traffic signals. If any one car makes a false start, or speeds through the intersection and collides with a car in front of them, the entire exchange is compromised. And since cars are coming from all directions at various speeds, the risk of an accident that causes injury and/or major damage to vehicles goes way up, too.

So how will autonomous vehicles navigate the signalized intersection?

Therein lies the debate: will AVs independently “sense” their way through intersections using onboard sensors capable of discerning, for instance, the color of traffic lights, all while communicating with other vehicles (V2V) — or will AVs be “escorted” through intersections via connected infrastructure (V2I)?

As it turns out, the case for the V2V argument is in question. For starters, we would need to trust that every manufacturer has built in precise, latency-proof communications units that ensure constant communication with every other car. Statistically, the odds of that happening aren’t good, and it seems like too big of a risk when all it takes is the failure of one sensor on one car to cause an accident.

Furthermore, according to a paper by the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, “a vehicle approaching an intersection can quickly find itself in a situation where a collision is unavoidable, even when it has acted optimally.” In other words, even if no car overtly malfunctions, you can hardly call the intersection safe. As the JAIR paper notes, an intersection has very specific points of potential collision – hotspots that only one car at a time can occupy. That’s engineer-speak for “two cars occupying one hotspot will cause an accident.”

And this is why there’s a strong case for the V2I argument (where AVs get escorted through the intersection). The paper goes on to argue that an intersection needs its own “cooperative vehicle intersection control system (CVICS)” – hardware and software located at every interchange, which keeps an eye on all the points of potential collision and guides AVs through based on its safety-first algorithm.

Remember that acronym, CVICS, because it’s going to be a huge factor in the success of autonomous vehicles. It is absolutely essential for the safety of AVs, which can’t reasonably be expected to never run into trouble in a complex intersection, no matter how advanced they become.

Researchers at JAIR aren’t the only researchers arguing that CVIC systems are going to be a necessity for autonomous vehicles. There seems to be a consensus forming around the idea, to the point where researchers are now trying to determine the best algorithms for intersection control. MIT recentlyreported research on a “slot-based system”, similar to airplane-boarding procedures, designed for slow guidance through intersections in groups. They were essentially building on an IEEE research paper that offered a detailed algorithm for intersection control units to deploy.

The results from IEEE’s testing of their algorithm is worth a look. Not only was the flow through the intersection optimized for safety as expected, researchers also noticed some other improvements: vehicle stop delay time was reduced by an astonishing 99%, improving average travel time (under the presumption that a commute will involve several encounters with CVICS) by 33% or more. Carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 44%, correlating directly with fuel savings of 44%. Basically, the researchers found that CVIC systems not only ensured safety, but made the process of getting through an intersection much faster. What’s not to like?

We remain optimistic about the safety benefits offered by autonomous vehicles. But the research is out there, and it’s compelling. Rather than risk public distrust in autonomous vehicles following a few crash-causing anomalies in intersections, it makes sense to deploy CVIC systems with proven algorithms to make intersections foolproof.

Just as we will eventually cede the wheel to our AVs, we will also need them to cede the wheel to CVICS from time to time and, in principle, the statistics showing such a disproportionate number of accidents occurring in intersections will shrink down to zero. We know that in the future our cars will be smart, but their interoperability with safety-oriented systems like CVICS will allow them to be brilliant.

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Why the Breakthrough of Blockchains May Be “Blockchainless”

Blockchains, or more generally, Distributed Ledger Technologies have a huge role to play in the future of mobility. With the advent of connected autonomous vehicles as well as the rise of electric mobility and shared usage models, Distributed Ledger Technologies and the future of mobility is a perfect match.

It is no surprise that the New Mobility ecosystem – automotive players, mobility service providers, insurance companies, telecommunications providers and smart city leaders – are exploring blockchain technologies. Many leading players are starting to embrace the key concepts of blockchains in order to solve real world problems related to identity management for people and machines, data control and integrity, information sharing, as well as trusted connectivity and cyber security.

However, it appears that blockchain technologies have not been able to move beyond proof of concepts. Production deployments have been limited to ‘private” or ‘consortium-based’, rather than public blockchains. There are many reasons that help to explain this statement. For one, the concept of blockchain technologies is still relatively new. Along with this, the notion of distributed peer-to-peer architectures and new business models is challenging conventional thinking. The main reason, however, is much simpler: Blockchain technologies have inherent limitations.

These limitations include lack of real-time validation of transactions, and the scalability issues that are inherent in the architecture. Related to this issue are transaction fees and the concentration of mining power.

The notion of blocks being generated through the consensus process makes real-time validation and scalability hard to achieve. In fact, it is inherent in the architecture. Transactions and the consensus process are sequential. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of unconfirmed transactions in the case of Bitcoin introduce serious limitations for use cases. Furthermore, the concept of mining and the need for stakers to achieve consensus and create blocks introduces transaction costs. As complexity grows an increasing amount of energy and computational power is needed. Bitcoin’s mean transaction fees have already risen above $1. Even worse, transaction costs are difficult to predict and therefore undermine business models in the Internet of Things. In a world of micro-transactions the question arises, “who is going to pay for it?”

Why a Blockchainless Approach Might be the Future

With the IOTA protocol, an interesting new approach to distributed ledger technologies is emerging that does not rely on traditional blockchain approaches. The 4 co-founders behind IOTA – David Sonstebo, Dominik Schiener, Sergey Invancheglo and Serguei Popov – have been part of the “Blockchain 2.0” revolution and made major contributions to the space. For instance, Sergey Invancheglo invented proof of stake. As part of many projects they have experienced the inherent limitations of traditional blockchains and have conceived a new approach to distributed ledgers. The idea of IOTA was born in 2015.

The main innovation behind IOTA is that it is a “Blockchain without the Blocks and the Chain”. The Tangle is a new distributed ledger architecture based on a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) that shares the same underlying principles and the key benefits of blockchains, just without their inherent limitations. Let me explain how.

Rather than rely on the creation of blocks that are chained together, in the Tangle, a single transaction references two past transactions.

The process involves 3 simple steps:

  1. Signing: The transaction inputs are signed with your private keys.
  2. Tip Selection: Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) is used to randomly select two tips that represent unconfirmed transactions, which will be referenced by your transaction.
  3. Proof of Work: In order to have your transaction accepted by the network, you have to do some proof of work.

Once these 3 steps are completed, the transaction will be broadcasted to the network. Another network participant will come along, choose the transaction in the tip selection process and validate it.

IOTA validates transactions without the need for miners and the associated cost of creating consensus. Instead of relying on a small subset of the network (miners / stakers), IOTA relies on the entire network of active participants to approve and validate transactions. Consensus is no longer decoupled from transactions, but rather an intrinsic part of the process. This allows IOTA to scale without any transactions fees.

The benefits of this approach are apparent. IOTA achieves a step change in performance and scalability, which makes it particularly suitable for the Internet of Things with ultimately billions of connected things. Given that there is no such thing as ‘always on’ connectivity in the real world, the Tangle also supports offline transactions through partitioning. This allows clusters of IoT devices, such as cars and trucks, to branch off and still make transactions using P2P communication protocols.

Since the transaction posting and consensus is parallelized, the network is inherently growing and scaling with the number of transactions. With the more transactions are being made, the Tangle becomes even more secure and efficient.

The creation of IOTA formed the backbone of the Internet of Things and the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Economy: a world where scalability is a must, and where transaction fees are prohibitive to making business models work.

The fact that IOTA does not introduce transaction fees makes it uniquely suited to IoT and M2M where a large number of micro- or even nano-transactions can be expected. The IOTA team envisions a future in which machines trade resources such as computation, electricity, storage, bandwidth, data and much more without the involvement of any third party. IOTA opens the doors to an Internet of Things that is not only secure and scalable, but makes business models in the M2M economy practical. It sets the industry on a path where it can move beyond proof of concepts and instead to real deployments.

If you look up “IOTA” in the dictionary, you will find it is “something very small.”. If you “don’t care one IOTA about something”, it means you don’t even care about it one little bit.

IOTA is a blockchainless approach to distributed ledgers. Should you care about it? Given its huge potential to become the backbone of the Internet of Things, I predict that IOTA will turn into something very big. We should not only care about IOTA. We should all get involved and use this revolutionary technology to shape our collective future.

Click here to view a short introductory video, “Welcome to IOTA Universe”.

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The Future We Want – Why I Am Passionate About Blockchains

Back in December 2000 I had my first meeting in my new role to help SAP develop a future vision and strategy for supply chain management. Together with Albrecht Diener I met Steve David, the then CIO of Procter & Gamble, who introduced us to his vision of a Consumer Driven Supply Network powered by a next generation Auto-ID technology and agent-based optimization.

My next trip was to meet the Director of the MIT Auto-ID Center, Kevin Ashton in Cambridge, MA. Kevin is credited with inventing the term “Internet of Things” back in 1999 and has played a key role in shaping it. Next to the MIT Auto-ID Center, Steve David also introduced us to Stuart Kauffman from the Santa Fe Institute, the godfather of complexity science. Together with brilliant minds like Bill MacReady, Tony Plate, Fred Seibel, Brian Birk and Brian Potter we looked at swarm intelligence and how ants and termites organize themselves, how birds flock and how schools of fish protect themselves from predators. Ever since I was fascinated by the notion of smart, connected things and a future of autonomous, self-organizing systems.

The challenge we faced was that we did not really have the underlying infrastructure to manage such systems. How do you manage a global network of smart, connected objects? How do you give them an identity? How do you steer the behavior of these independent economic agents in a way that leads to a somewhat optimized outcome for the entire system? How do you enable transactions between these smart objects? How do we create a record of transactions in a world of distributed systems? And how do you keep such a system secure? We could not really find a satisfactory answer to these problems at the time.

When I discovered blockchain technologies almost 15 years later, I felt like I finally found this missing piece. Blockchains or more generally distributed ledger technologies promise to deliver the backbone for the Internet of Things. In the not too distant future, we might have fleets of electric robot taxis swarm out like ants to look for passengers. Distributed ledger technologies will play a critical role in this emerging Machine-to-Machine economy.

We have done projects with world leading companies to explore the potential of the technology. The more we learn, the more excited we are about its potential to change the world for the better. We believe that distributed ledger technologies are critical to shaping our collective futures. Thanks to people like Rob Wolcott, Yossi Vardi, Maurizio Rossi and Plamen Russev we have become part of a global ecosystem of innovation. In our many discussions at events such as DLD, KINglobal, webit, 4YFN, Kinnernet, Autonomy and TU Detroit more and more people seem to agree that we need to make sure that technology serves us as humans. We all need to make sure that we create a future where humanity, life and the planet can thrive.

We aim to create a platform to empower more people to understand the technology and its key concepts and implications. In the next weeks and months, we will share more and more of our thinking around blockchains and distributed ledger technologies.

  • We will make the technology and its key underlying concepts and implications understandable to a larger audience.
  • We will share our passion for a world where people and things have digital identities that can be shared and trusted across a network.
  • A world where our data is no longer compromised by storing it in large honey pots of data that attracts hackers.
  • We will explore why distributed ledger technologies are critical to securing the Internet of Things. We will explore the role of blockchains in machine learning and artificial intelligence, autonomous robotic systems and the emerging Machine-to-Machine Economy.
  • We will examine new business models and how we as humans can thrive in this future.

We want to build a future we all want to live in. I hope you will join us on that journey. We all must play an active role in shaping the future, or somebody else will create it for us. A future we might not like. Let’s create the future we want!

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Busting The “Heavier Traffic” Myth

When you’re tracking the evolution of autonomous vehicles via Google News alerts, every day starts with something interesting and often exciting. But some of the time, an article is only interesting because of how misleading it is.

There’s a reason for that. As we’ve been reporting for some time now, sometimes a writer or a publication decides to take a sliver of information out of context and turn it into click-bait.

The result, of course, is a scary and/or discouraging headline blowing up your RSS feed. This week’s culprit: “Self-Driving Cars Could Be Terrible for Traffic – Here’s Why.”

This is a rare case. Not only is the argument spurious, the tone actually gets worse after the headline.

Usually, a click-bait headline gives way to an article that begins to pull its punches or makes caveats. But the lead three paragraphs of this particular article take this fascinating progression: “(p1)Self-driving cars might make your future commute a lot more pleasant, but they won’t eliminate traffic” … (p2) Execs like Sergey Brin of Google say they will… (p3) “But experts say the vehicles’ impact on traffic will be minimal or negative.”

So, it’s not really that they’re saying self-driving cars “could be” terrible for traffic. They’re saying they will be.

Of course, as expected, the expert quoted in the following graf says nothing that calls for that sort of language. The expert says “autonomous vehicles won’t fix congestion woes unless a pricing system is put into place” for zero-occupancy vehicles to discourage companies from using AVs as a free alternative to shipping carriers like UPS and the postal service.

Buried deeper in the piece, almost as an afterthought, are examples of states that have already begun putting such pricing systems into place.

It may seem like a small thing. This is just one article, after all, in a sea of articles, if you search “autonomous vehicles and congestion” that all say in one way or another how much AVs will help reduce congestion. ( Here’s one of my recent favorites, from MIT’s Technology Lab, about how just a few AVs on a road among standard-driver cars dramatically reduces congestion.)

But this is how myths are made. The power of the Internet is strong, and the power of the human mind to think it knows something because it read it on the Internet may be even stronger. For the average news consumer who hasn’t been making an effort to stay abreast of every new study and survey that point to the undeniable promise of autonomous vehicles, all it takes is chancing upon this one article, and suddenly they know a new “fact” about AVs.

And they tell their friends. And their friends tell their friends. And so on, and so on.

But as we argued months ago, this is a deeply irresponsible act every time a respectable news outlet plays on the public fears of the unknown to make a spurious argument just to get some traffic for their banner advertisers. To paraphrase Elon Musk in the above-linked piece, every time a journalist writes an anti-AV piece, they’re potentially putting human lives at risk.

Because we shouldn’t lose the big picture here. Yes, states will have to adjust regulations to account for businesses that want to use AVs as free courier services. The switch to autonomous vehicles isn’t going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to be a situation where we just have a new kind of vehicle but we keep all the laws exactly the same. But the idea that states, which often find it extremely hard to tighten the belt enough to find money for road repairs, would simply go along with companies using AVs for free deliveries is absurd. Of course the company would need to pay for using public infrastructure for wide-scale delivery services. It’s hard to think of a state that wouldn’t jump at the chance of opening a revenue stream for transportation in this way.

Here’s the big point this argument gets us to, though – one totally missed by its author. So let’s imagine this future where businesses are having to pay a per-mile tax for unmanned delivery services. First of all, they’re economizing their own use of VMT (vehicle miles traveled) to get the job done for as little as they can have to use the roads, which means the nightmare scenario put forth by this article never comes true (as the expert cited in the article says) and yes, traffic congestion does decrease. The state, meanwhile, is getting some extra money to make road infrastructure repairs and even invest in new pieces of infrastructure. The environment is benefitting from the drop in congestion, and maybe will even more from smart infrastructure the state invests in. And people are still getting their packages on time.

This is the thing with these misleading articles. If you stop to logically step through the scenario they’re positing, and you account for basic common sense they forgot to include, their hollow scare piece turns into another rosy-looking scenario for AVs.

This isn’t just optimism on my part. Here’s a little experiment you can do to see my point in action. Go ahead, search around the internet for the benefits of AVs on any given topic, from safety to land use. Notice the hundreds of immediately available news articles and the plethora of white papers and academic journal articles.

Then Google the exact opposite of what you just saw hundreds of articles about. Example query: “autonomous vehicles will be less safe”. Something we know beyond a shadow of a doubt isn’t true. And yet, there you see all the click-baity counterexamples.

If I’ve written in a colloquial style here, it’s only been because I want to keep your attention. The point is deadly serious. Journalists need to stop worrying so much about getting clicks and start being responsible to their sources as well as their readership by avoiding this sort of crass misappropriation of context.

News outlets, just consider it: it’s completely possible to support your business model without scaring people into clicking headlines. AVs are exciting enough in their own right. We know you’ll catch on soon.

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Introducing the AV Mythbusting Series

Growing up in the 80s without cable TV, a Nintendo or the very idea of the Internet, I did a lot of reading. One of my most treasured books, likely published in the 1970s, was full of scientists’ predictions about the future. I couldn’t wait to see some of this stuff come true: telephones with video screens so you could see the other person, cars that could take off from highways and rise to a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, movie theaters with remote controls that let the audience vote on what the main character should do next.

It was fun to read, but ultimately gave me little indication of what the future was going to look like. I never dreamed I’d have a pocket computer with a processing power thousands of times greater than my mom’s IBM 286. Or that I’d be able to instantly communicate with anyone in the world with it. Or, for that matter, that cars would eventually be able to drive themselves. Even in the vision of flying cars, there still needed to be a pilot.

Here’s the thing – the future is very difficult to predict. Even very credible people who specialized in artificial intelligence swore that a computer program could never learn to beat a grandmaster at chess. They were proved wrong two decades ago.

Even today, we can’t predict the future with a hundred percent certainty. The things we highlight about autonomous vehicles are always based on research rather than empirical proof, but we do this because we see so many potential benefits that could come from the technology once it is fully realized. The number of fatalities per year from the current auto culture is staggering and the harm reduction AVs could bring is one of many factors that motivate our optimism.

But there are some out there who doubt. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a difference between openly doubting and outright sowing of negative myths. And unfortunately, it seems like these doubts, when stated as facts, serve as amazing click-bait for people that are instinctively concerned about AVs.

So we’ve decided to begin a series where we’ll look at a few of these myths and shine some light on them. The potential benefits of AVs are promising enough to demand this approach.

Let’s start with one of the most well-worn chestnuts of doubt.


Some people never get past a figure that is oft-cited by AV doubters: $250,000. That’s how much a fully autonomous vehicle is estimated to cost given the current price of sensor technology. And, yes, that is on the surface a prohibitively expensive price tag for the vast majority of people. But it’s founded on two myths: one, that manufacturers will never find a way to make LiDAR sensors at a lower cost. (They’ve already made some breakthroughs there). But the second part of it is that it’s based on an unrealistic picture of what a culture powered by AVs would look like.

recent study from Columbia University’s Earth Institute suggested that AVs could be run for 30 to 50 cents per mile, down from a $3-5/mile cost to taxi companies under the current regime. In Manhattan, they concluded, the rate would be about 40 cents a mile – whereas today the cost to companies is around $4/mile. If taxis and Ubers were 90 percent cheaper than they are today, would you rather pay to maintain your own car and deal with the regular hassles of repair and regular tune-ups, or spend one to two dollars per day being taxied all around town? Which would be more convenient for making it to work on time or getting your kids home from school? It’s a no-brainer.

This cost reduction could be even more dramatic. Currently, cabs have to focus on one customer per ride. People sometimes share taxis if they know one another and are at the same pick-up point, but rideshare apps have already shown the potential to drastically cut fares even under the $4/mile to operate conditions. If the reduction in costs to operate were paired with the ride-sharing component, getting around town via a hired car would cost far less than it currently costs to own and operate a car.

So, yes, if the technology remains as expensive as it is now – a big ‘if’ – maybe you won’t own your own autonomous vehicle. But maybe you wouldn’t even want to. Imagine never having to worry about changing the brake pads or renewing your registration again while still getting around town just as easily. I don’t know about you, but personally, that sounds like a future I can accept.

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Wisconsin Executive Order on AV Development

Governor Walker issued an Executive Order today “Relating to the Creation of the Governor’s Steering Committee on Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Testing and Deployment.” Click here to read it (pdf).

This is an important recognition by the State of Wisconsin of the R&D work UW-Madison does on AVs, CVs, and related mobility advances, while acknowledging the incredible transformation upon us and the myriad benefits for Wisconsin.

“the removal of barriers to the testing and deployment of automated and connected vehicle technology in Wisconsin may produce significant social, economic, environmental, and innovative benefits including enhancing mobility, creating jobs, and improving transportation efficiency”

Wisconsin is in a legal grey area for certain types of advanced AVs operating on public roads, and we are fortunate that our legislators and governor support the AV Proving Ground’s work on the “path to public road evaluation.” Among the missions of this new committee is to identify statutes, code, laws, or rules “that impede the testing and deployment” on roads.

These are complex issues that affect all of us and touch many disciplines. The AV Proving Grounds team looks forward to working with this committee over the next 13 months. Learn more about our AV Proving Grounds here, or send us a note at

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Voters Care About Infrastructure

Editor’s note: Happy infrastructure week! This is the week during which Congress devotes most of its time to exploring possibilities for improving America’s infrastructure. At least, that’s what they usually do. This time around, all eyes are on the Trump/Comey situation, and likely will remain there for a while. But let’s just pretend there weren’t any political problems blocking actual policy decisions during this crucial week and dive into one of our favorite topics: infrastructure.

Sometimes you have to sort through the bad news to find a silver lining. A recent poll may turn the stomachs of the Trump administration and Republicans in congress, but if they read it carefully, they’ll see they have a chance to turn things around: and it’s not by repealing Obamacare or building the border wall – it’s by delivering on Trump’s campaign promises regarding infrastructure.

The poll in question was a survey of midterm voters in four swing states flipped by Trump in 2016 – Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And there’s no two ways about it: things are looking bleak for him and his party. A whopping 80% of voters surveyed, for example, say they believe that Trump lies. A plurality of voters don’t feel he’s been successful, and a majority of those voters feel he has himself to blame. A majority of voters also will blame Trump and Congressional Republicans if spending disagreements result in a government shutdown.

But the poll contains some clues for what the administration ought to do next. Trump needs a win, but with recent efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act floundering in Congress and disagreements over the border wall holding up spending bills, it would appear Trump needs to adjust his priorities.

According to the write-up of the results, “voters are lukewarm regarding Trump’s campaign promises” — for example, only 40% o0f respondents said they’d be disappointed if the border wall isn’t built, and 3/4ths of the disappointed would still vote Republican in the midterms anyway – but they do have one priority in mind: infrastructure.

Infrastructure is “the most popular and ‘deal-breaking’ of the four promises tested … with 57% of voters indicating disappointment if it does not pass by 2018, and only 53% of that subset indicating they would vote Republican [if it doesn’t happen].”

So we hope the administration is paying attention. And judging by a few recent decisions, it would appear that the President will need to change tack to get it done through bipartisan consensus.

Not only is bipartisanship essential to getting a bill passed – we’ve reported the difficulty in moving an infrastructure bill through Congress in more than one piece – it’s completely doable. Democrats, at least in theory, love the idea of investing in infrastructure. Many Republicans have also named infrastructure as a major priority. Both parties know this is a popular, necessary measure.

For that reason, it’s somewhat disappointing to learn from a Politico transportation reporter that a recent confab between DOT secretary Elaine Chao and the House Transportation Committee was “a Republicans-only affair… Democrats were not informed about the meeting.” The meeting was to discuss the role of public-private partnerships in an infrastructure funding initiative. While Republicans and the Trump administration may like this approach more than Democrats do, transportation and infrastructure (T&I) Democrats have always maintained they believe public-private partnerships have a role to play in any infrastructure bill.

Hopefully, the administration is just finding its sea legs. Politico also recently reported that the Trump administration’s practice of adding “senior advisers” at every federal department has completely backfired and that they’re looking to give up on this “shadow cabinet.”

The shadow cabinet plan was especially bad at DOT. Senior adviser Anthony Pugliese, according to a DOT source speaking with Politico, “got off to a rough start when he ordered the blocking of all outgoing mail in the early days of the administration, supposedly to prevent last-minute Obama decisions from going out the door, then neglected to lift the order. The result was a giant stack of mail full of obscure bureaucratic missives that nobody knew what to do with.”

Secretary Chao herself was put off by the shadow cabinet push. The DOT source said that “Pugliese at one point informed Chao that he wanted to approve every DOT policy prior to its public release, which took Chao by surprise.” According to the source, “the secretary was like, ‘um, what’s your name again?’”

The Trump administration has had a go at dealing with these vital infrastructure issues without compromise. Press covering the above mishaps has certainly done nothing to aid his efforts. But ultimately, it all comes down to votes. The administration needs a win, and the data shows that the win comes in the form of an infrastructure package.

So it’s time for Trump and congressional Republicans to finally invite Democrats to the table, admit that they need to work together to pass an infrastructure bill, and get started right away finding common ground on language and purpose. It will take some compromising, but isn’t that what Congress is supposed to do?

And just in case infrastructure becoming a national emergency isn’t enough motivation, the administration can just take the pulse of the swing states that put them in power. If they want to continue chairing the Transportation committees, along with all the rest, it seems clear that the infrastructure bill is the win they need to retain the confidence of their voters.

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Can Government Overcome Hurdles to Infrastructure Investment?

How many government officials — national, state, regional, and city — does it take to modernize the infrastructure of the United States?

There’s no good punchline, and only one answer that fits: too many. And whether this large group of politicians can actually pull it off remains to be seen.

There are, unfortunately, roadblocks at both the state and federal level, and plenty of them. Each of them makes it a little bit harder for the Trump infrastructure proposal to come to fruition. Added together, they paint a bleak picture. So let’s take a look at this problem at both the federal and state levels.


Last month, we looked at vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies and how important they are to the rollout of autonomous vehicles. In that piece, there was a choice quote from Adie Tomer of the Brookings Institute: “developing a single Infrastructure bill would require a Congressional Tower of Babel.”

It’s an interesting conceit. You may remember the story of the Tower of Babel, but here’s the gist: at that time, humans all spoke the same language, and because that enabled them to work together so effectively, they managed to build a tower that reached heaven. In the story, God saw it as an affront to his power: “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible to them.” So he created different languages to confuse everyone and doom the project.

The tale is meant to explain why there are different languages and cultures, and why we have national/cultural conflicts. But read today, in the context of developing a national infrastructure strategy, Tomer’s allusion is quite apt. Because for something as huge as modernizing the nation’s infrastructure, there is going to have to be unity – everyone speaking the same language. Especially since this isn’t just a matter of repairing old infrastructure. We’re seeking to create smart roads and other V2I infrastructure — they’re essential aspects of the AV and smart city future, and they’re not going to just build themselves.

And in that same Brookings piece, Tomer goes so far as to say “there’s no such thing as an infrastructure bill.” That’s surprising, given the amount of talk from the Trump administration about a $1 trillion infrastructure investment.

So why would a Brookings fellow say this? Not “infrastructure can’t pass,” but “there will never be a bill”? We need a “tower of Babel”? We know Congress can’t get along, but can’t they just put aside party politics for once? If only it were that simple!

You might expect that there’s a subcommittee somewhere in the US legislature that oversees America’s infrastructure. And you’d be correct. The problem is, there are several of them — in each chamber — all claiming some jurisdiction over US infrastructure. The result: trench warfare.

When browsing through a list of the standing Senate committees trying to determine who has jurisdiction over infrastructure, you might naturally stop at the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee. Seems like the natural place for it. And it is: the committee oversees “communications, highway safety … regulation of interstate common carriers, technology research and development of policy, standards and measurement, [and] transportation.”

But there are subcommittees within Commerce, Science and Transportation with overlapping interests, especially if our new infrastructure is going to be V2I-equipped, which it must be. There’s the Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over wireless communications — an integral function of V2I tech.

Then there’s the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security subcommittee, which oversees the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “in creating safe and fuel efficient vehicles.”

And the Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee, which, among other things, oversees the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — and good standards are crucial for V2I interoperability.

Finally, there’s the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security subcommittee, which “has jurisdiction over interstate transportation policy issues,” and oversees DOT and the Office of Research and Technology, as well as independent transportation regulatory boards.

Obviously, all these subcommittees would have to work closely together, each representing jurisdiction over an element of V2I technology, in order to ensure the right language is in a hypothetical infrastructure bill. But at least they’re grouped under one larger committee. Subcommittees often disagree within the framework of the larger committee they’re serving — sometimes due to constituency and re-election issues, occasionally due to ideology — but ultimately, the committee at large takes their recommendations into consideration when deciding whether to move a bill to the floor or not.
So it should still be doable, right?

Maybe not. Because there are some other standing committees with jurisdiction over similar, and sometimes the same, aspects of infrastructure. And this is where the need for a “tower of Babel”, a shared language, becomes really apparent. Unless all these standing committees and subcommittees are coming at infrastructure with a uniform point of view, this is where the whole bill really risks falling apart.

Just a couple of examples: the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee enjoys jurisdiction over “urban mass transit systems and general urban development issues” — road infrastructure in cities would need their OK. There’s the Environment and Public Works committee, whose jurisdiction includes construction and maintenance of highways, and a subcommittee called Transportation and Infrastructure that oversees “transportation”, according to their website.

But wait, you may be saying… How can there be a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that has jurisdiction over transportation, while you just read about the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee claiming the same jurisdiction? Well, that’s part of the problem. I’ll spare you further descriptions of committees and subcommittees that have similar jurisdiction, but believe it or not, there are four others (in each chamber!) that also claim some oversight over transportation and infrastructure. And if you begin to include things like data security and collection that will be necessary with V2I infrastructure, that number gets even bigger.

And let’s just say these committees all, through sheer luck, managed to agree on exactly what was needed for infrastructure in a sweeping reform and funding bill. They’d still have to get through Appropriations, which has the final say in allocating monies for the bill. And, wouldn’t you know it, there are Appropriations subcommittees that could wind up at loggerheads over money, too. There’s the Transportation and HUD subcommittee, which funds DOT as well as surface transportation projects, but there’s also the Energy and Water Development subcommittee, overseeing the US Army Corps of Engineers and others that build “civic works projects.”

Considering that Congress doesn’t have a great track record, especially recently, of being able to come to consensus on budgetary issues, it would appear Tomer is right. There are too many cooks spoiling the broth in Congress. And, remember, if the Congressional committees did all somehow hammer out an agreement on infrastructure and then there was agreement about how to fund it, and a majority of Senators passed the bill, the President would still have to sign it into law.

The question ultimately becomes: would a Congressional Tower of Babel even be enough if legislators managed to unify around this issue? It doesn’t take much for a bill to die in committee. The Congress must recognize the urgency of this issue and be brave, since not everybody is going to be able to impress their state constituents and please their fund-raisers in the short-term. A massive investment in infrastructure transcends those concerns – it’s the role of the federal government to make these big decisions for the good of the nation, and, dare we say it, to compromise with one another in doing so.

Take a deep breath — it gets tougher.


Recently, Reuters ran an investigative report about the astonishing delays infrastructure faces at the state level.

Part of the report focused on a saltwater-to-freshwater treatment plant that might be built in Huntington Beach, California. If you’ve been following the news over the past few years, you know that California is in desperate need of fresh water — it’s been enough for the governor to declare a state of emergency multiple times. The drought has threatened crops, started wildfires, and caused the citizenry to worry about whether their taps would even continue to flow if it went on. So this piece of infrastructure could reasonably be called an emergent need.

Here’s the problem: the project was proposed in the late 1990s, with permit requests sent to the requisite boards and commissions. By the early 2000s, the city of Huntington Beach had approved it, but the builder still needed 24 more permits from state agencies to build the facility. Some of these permits required other permits before the project could even be considered, so the timeline went like this:

  • In 2007, the company finally got approved by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is federally mandated by the EPA to ensure that a piece of water infrastructure has an effective pollutant discharge elimination system. Following that approval, the company was able to apply for a permit from the California Coastal Commission.
  • The CCC permit application required dozens of amendments — because as time went on with the permit pending, new laws and regulations took effect. The company had to completely redo its design, for example, when the state decided to phase out power plants that use seawater for cooling purposes.
  • After several redesigns and permit amendments, the company had to temporarily shelve their application with the CCC in 2013, who directed them to look into concerns about the effects of the plant on fish larva in the area.
  • Two years later, all fish larva concerns cleared, the permit was resubmitted in 2015 — but withdrawn again in late 2016, because the commission wanted proof that the plans complied with rules passed in 2015. This compelled the company to redesign their saltwater intake and discharge technologies.
  • As of this writing, the company still doesn’t have approval from the CCC, along with two other agencies. The other 21 permits have been issued. The company’s optimistic prediction is that by the second quarter of 2018, construction can finally begin.

Again: designed by a company in the mid 90s, applied for in the late 90s. 20 years later, they’ll be able to begin construction, if they’re lucky. And this isn’t just some big industrial blight that one could argue deserves to be held up. It’s a piece of infrastructure that would directly address what the state’s governor has officially called an emergency.

That means it’s a cautionary tale. No matter the importance of a new piece of infrastructure, a single major project can be stalled for decades as it seeks all requisite permits. Many of these permit agencies do environmental impact studies that take a year or two apiece. If there wasn’t so much bureaucracy and agency-level politics, maybe a state could agree to do a single environmental impact study per proposal. This would drastically reduce the wait time while still ensuring infrastructure projects would be at least environment-neutral.

But, again, to do this, there would have to be broad agreement across state agencies with overlapping jurisdiction on infrastructure projects. Sound familiar? A single Congressional tower of Babel was already pitched by Adie Tomer as an impossibility – could we possibly manage to come up with an additional 50 of them?


This is not a rosy picture. An infrastructure bill is going to be very hard to pass federally, and then each individual piece of it will likely face roadblocks at the state level. But when it comes to looking for V2I technology to be put into place — a necessary aspect of rolling out AVs — there is some degree of hope here. Infrastructure is a national emergency. The short-term approach to upkeep of failing infrastructure is costing cities far more than it would cost to repair and/or build new infrastructure. There are water emergencies across cities and states not just limited to California. We got a reminder from Atlanta recently that there are road and bridge emergencies waiting to happen nationwide, too. So eventually something is going to have to be done in spite of all this gridlock. It’s a shame that infrastructure has decayed so badly that it truly is a national emergency, but if there’s a silver lining, at least it’s happening now as opposed to ten years ago.

Because now we have the science and technology to integrate V2I technology into the infrastructure that will have to be rebuilt. With that technology, we will be able to monitor the condition of infrastructure so we will know when it needs low-cost servicing that will prevent a high-cost emergency down the road. We will be able to roll out autonomous vehicles, which will save money for companies and city/state governments in such impressive fashion that eventually the infrastructure spending will be made up for and then some.

We just need elected officials at all levels of government to recognize this is an emergency — from an economic, social and security standpoint — and find a way to overcome all the various hurdles to get this done all at once. This is the nation that got behind the New Deal and, through sweeping efforts, pushed through a depression that could have ended the nation entirely. No Congressional tower of Babel was required, because the emergency was obvious. All it takes now, as it did then, is a government that’s courageous and responsible enough to take on the challenge and admit the severity of the crisis before it’s too late. And this time we have the added benefit of being able to use the opportunity to bring in innovations that will prevent the emergency from happening again.

So we hope the government’s response to the question — how many governmexnt officials does it take to repair infrastructure — is “all of them, bravely working together, putting the national interest ahead of personal agendas, speaking the same language.” That’s the real answer – it’s not a joke.

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Smart Infrastructure Will Let Us Breathe Easy

It’s tough to gauge the benefits of a technology that isn’t live yet. Saying “we don’t know” is a lot safer.

While many of us are excited about the potential of autonomous vehicles to dramatically cut emissions and reduce the carbon footprint laid down by humanity, there are some researchers that are saying “hit the brakes”.

Sometimes these warnings are couched in studies that bring us good news. Within the past month, a report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) delivered some encouraging findings: by 2050, connected autonomous vehicles could reduce fuel consumption in cars by 44%. And just this week, the Institute for Transportation and Development policy released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ridesharing in urban areas –and they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80%. In other words, the good news, when reported, is breathtakingly good.

But some continue to find ways to cast doubt on these findings. These reports come on the heels of another study published late last year by the Center for American Progress (CAP) that painted a bleaker picture – and the EIA study repeated the concerns raised by the CAP report. The summary of those concerns: “all this potential to reduce emissions could be wasted, and could be made worse than it is even today. It all depends on how people adapt to these vehicles.” These studies promote a wait-and-see approach. After all, they argue, what if people love AVs so much that they just ride around in them all day, thus exceeding the current average miles traveled per vehicle? This seems to be the top concern in both reports.

Good news. We do know already of existing technology that is proven to reduce emissions and is being deployed for that purpose worldwide. Transportation tech covers more than just the vehicles on the road, it extends to the roadways themselves – and how they’re managed.

So we don’t have to get involved in a hypothetical argument here. It may seem a little less futuristic and exciting than the idea of an AV automatically adjusting to limit emissions while driving, but smart city technology is already proven to cut emissions in a big way: up to 15% nationwide, once intelligent traffic systems are adopted on a wide scale. That data comes courtesy of a recent white paper by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation & The University of California-Davis.

15% may not seem like much, but the Climate Change Authority is calling for a 20% reduction in traffic-specific emissions. That means that even if people get addicted to their AVs and presumably overuse their vehicles, if they manage to reduce emissions even by 5%, we could meet that goal. And if – as we believe they will – AVs fulfill the promise to slash emissions by a third, we could end up exceeding the CCA’s goal.

So what are these complementary systems that offer such enticing benefits?

Intelligent traffic systems are just a piece of the smart city vision. But they’re also the systems that are the most developed. Cisco, Siemens and IBM all have comprehensive intelligent traffic systems on the market, as do many other companies. Many of the systems have been in place for some time, but their benefits aren’t known to most people. So what’s in an intelligent traffic system – how do the pieces fit together, and how does each play a role in cutting emissions?

Here are just a few examples — all of which rely on smart technology for dynamic minute-to-minute adjustments that allow them to reduce congestion and emissions at the maximum rate.

Traffic monitoring systems use sensors, wireless communication and real-time data processing to estimate traffic flow, density and speed. The information gathered by these systems can be used to improve management on the municipal side and can also help travelers find alternate routes when there’s a big load on the highway. These systems help reduce traffic congestion, which in turn cuts emissions.

Integrated corridor management uses techniques such as dynamic ramp metering for highway access ramps and advanced signal timing on arterial road networks, both of which promote improved traffic flow. Again: a reduction in congestion means fewer emissions.

Travel demand management uses dynamic pricing to increase toll costs for drivers who wish to use a highway when it’s badly congested. The supply and demand effect applied to roads naturally results in many drivers seeking alternate routes rather than pay a big toll. A reduction in congestion – you can guess what comes next, fewer emissions.

Some of these measures have been in place for some time. Even your E-Z pass for toll booths helps the environment. If you think those electronic payment systems are great because you get to speed through a toll booth more quickly, you’re not wrong. But that same freedom to move through the tollbooths without stopping does its own bit to cut congestion. Those passes take you out of the line of cars idling and waiting to throw their change in the basket. As with all these other examples, cutting down on cars idling on the highway does a big part to curb emissions. It’s a win-win for you and the environment.

These are just a sampling of traffic management systems we already see in use throughout the US. In most of these cases, smart technology is allowing city managers to take concepts they’ve put into practice already, but to maximize their effects. And those that have taken the time to make their systems dynamic have seen a big reduction in emissions.

Even if AVs don’t live up to the spectacular promise of slashing emissions by up to eighty percent – and, again, we believe they will – we’re seeing infrastructure incorporated on roadways throughout the world that are proven to cut emissions: without needing any more validation data, or any studies on how people will adapt to these advances.

So, no need to hold your breath: it looks like we’ll all be breathing easier.

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Proving It: Connected Infrastructure & AV Research Vital to a National Strategy

When envisioning the coming age of autonomous vehicles, it’s easy to get stuck on picturing AVs themselves. Their sophisticated sensors, flashy dashboards, and roomy cabins have created a lot of well-deserved buzz.

The problem with that is it’s an incomplete vision. While AVs themselves are glamorous, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies are essential to their efficacy. Without V2I tech, the autonomous vehicle dream might not come true.

Steve Caya is head of production at Roadview — a subsidiary of Mandli Communications, which specializes in geospatial mapping of transportation infrastructure. The field work he and others at the company have done over the years has underscored the need for V2I tech, he says.

His take: “just as human drivers require visual and auditory cues to ensure a safe journey, driverless cars will need vast amounts of vehicle-to-infrastructure communications data to understand their world.”

Welcome to the era of V2I, where the technology outside the car is as critical as the technology inside the car.

Defining the coming age this way allows us to stress what needs to be done to prepare the way for autonomous vehicles. And we can put that in simple terms: funding for the AV proving grounds.

President Trump has promised to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over the next 10 years. That sounds promising. And it sets him up for an easy policy victory: funding for infrastructure that includes V2I is a smart, forward-looking investment. It leads to a new age of productivity and safety in transportation. So it’s an easy chip shot for the President — right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Even if the President laid out the perfect infrastructure bill, he still would need Congress to vote it into law. And Congress uses separate authorizing legislation for each category of infrastructure. There’s surface transportation, air transportation, water resources, telecommunications, and energy — to name a few. Congressional committees mirror this stratified approach.

The result, not to mince words, is trench warfare. Adie Tomer, a Metropolitan Policy Fellow at the Brookings Institute wrote: “more than half a dozen committees in each chamber [claim] at least some responsibility for infrastructure design and oversight,” with each sector gunning for its planning ambitions, construction methods, and funding streams.

So it should come as no surprise that the US does not have a single, comprehensive infrastructure strategy — let alone a plan to fund it. Up until now, it’s never existed. “Developing a single ‘infrastructure bill’ would require a Congressional Tower of Babel,” Tomer continued.

That said, in spite of popular belief, sometimes Congress does actually break new ground to get things done. And they made a great first step toward that recently.

On April 7th, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) led a bipartisan group in the U.S. Senate — which included Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) — in calling for increased funding to support the advancement of connected and automated vehicle technologies. This appeal took the form of a letter to the Chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

The letter asked Congress to appropriate funding for CAV technologies’ development and testing at the various AV proving ground sites across the US. This is timely and appropriate. Before the recent designation of the proving-ground sites by the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were no national testing facilities whatsoever for testing AV tech.

That’s right: none. And while they are in critical need of funding, the AV proving ground sites are ideal locations to carry out the huge amount of necessary testing. After all, the promise of autonomous vehicles, in sum, is a car accurately performing safety-critical driving functions in a defined scenario, such as a driverless-car-only roadway. The proving grounds sites are therefore a huge opportunity: where else could AVs and V2I technology, and the interactions between them, be tested safely in the exact sort of environment for which they’re designed?

The Senators understand the importance of the proving grounds. They wrote: “connected and automated vehicles are going to be developed abroad if we do not take the lead in making sure these technologies are advanced right here in the United States.” Recent investments by Chinese firms in AV start-ups certainly bear this out.

“Identifying and selecting these initial proving grounds was a crucial first step, but the USDOT must now be given the resources to work quickly to ensure that testing and evaluation at these facilities can begin as soon as possible,” the letter continued.

These Senators actually get it — quite refreshing. They understand that V2I and AV technologies go hand-in-hand. They know these proving grounds sites, which generally bring together research institutions and tech companies, are key to building a national strategy around integrating this technology. And they can see that time is of the essence if the US is to lead the way for the AV revolution.

Steve Caya said he’s excited, along with the rest of the company, about the partnership. “There are significant challenges on the road ahead,” he said, “but testing and researching this revolutionary technology is imperative, and we’re glad to be taking part in it.”

After all, this technology could prevent 90 percent of all traffic fatalities. So while Congress dukes it out in the trenches, the real action lies in these proving grounds. We hope Congress is serious about developing a national smart infrastructure strategy to support AV tech. And, with optimism on that front, we applaud the bipartisan group of Senators calling for funding the proving grounds. It’s not a bad start, and we hope the rest of the government is listening.

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Atlanta Bridge Crisis: A Plea For Federal Infrastructure Investment

“It’s bad news — you’re going to have to drive around the sun, practically, to get around the city.”

That’s how an Atlanta resident described the effect of the recent fire on I-85, a section of highway just a few miles north of downtown that resulted in a bridge collapse and a miles-long highway closure. Having lived in Atlanta, not far from the interchange in question, I winced when I heard that. If an Atlanta driver is using hyperbole of that intensity about traffic congestion, it’s a very bad sign.

The week after I moved out of Atlanta following a couple of years living there, a light snow storm forced traffic to a dead stop on I-85. It was big news a few years ago. People abandoned their cars by the side of the road and walked home. For anyone who recalls that incident, it’s clear that the bridge collapse is not just an unfortunate accident, it’s a crisis dropping to an even deeper level.

It’ll take 6 months to a year to rebuild the bridge and reopen that section of I-85. And since there are few alternatives for the millions of people that commute from the Atlanta suburbs north of the city into downtown every day, it’s causing massive delays in a city that already is close to the top of the congestion charts. There are surprisingly few alternate routes for getting around the city — I-85 is the main road for commuters coming in from the suburbs to work — and what few there are now jammed with traffic like never before. The I-85 closure in Atlanta is going to cause major waste problems for businesses and workers all throughout the metro area.

The problem here extends far beyond the bridge fire and its collapse. It’s rather like the straw that broke the brace applied in desperation to the camel’s back. Atlanta’s traffic problems were already an emergency and have been for years. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias recently ran a piece arguing that the bridge collapse merely “highlights” the “regional transportation planning disaster” that is the City of Atlanta.

He’s right. And the problem isn’t Atlanta’s alone. For many southern cities, Atlanta is a nightmare vision of the future. That’s because it’s the biggest and busiest of a number of cities that have become sprawling as their populations swell. I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. When I was born in 1983, the population was somewhere around 200,000 people. Today, the Raleigh Metropolitan Statistical Area has an estimated population of over 1.3 million. Add neighboring Durham and Chapel Hill into the mix (which comprises an area of relative size equivalence to the Atlanta Metro area), and it’s over 2 million people.

That’s still a far cry from the Atlanta Metro’s’ 5.7 million residents, but the growth of areas like Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill has been so swift, and with zoning so similar to Atlanta’s, there are several parts in the South where people shake their heads sadly and say “looks like we’re going to be the next Atlanta.” Sprawl has become the model for “urban planning” throughout the southeast. Regional planning seems nonexistent as suburb after suburb is tacked on and begins to boom, each one further out than the last from the urban center, where most people out in the suburbs work.

Yglesias points out something crucial to understanding the problem when he cites the failure of the 2012 referendum that would have imposed a one-cent-per-gallon gas tax for use in repairing and expanding roadway infrastructure in Atlanta. A critical need for a city of Atlanta’s size, existing as it does in a state that is anywhere between 48th-50th in per capita highway spending.

That measure was struck down convincingly, 65-35, split entirely by suburban vs urban lines. For people in the suburbs, the traffic is a nuisance, but it’s ultimately not close to home and not, in their minds, their problem. For people in the urban center, traffic is a massive disruption in a person’s daily life, and severely limits the mobility of those without a car, since Atlanta’s sub-par public transit is slowed considerably — limiting the range of options for a person to find work.

MARTA, Atlanta’s public transit system, is famously insufficient and inefficient. MARTA stops are far-flung and there aren’t enough of them — and good luck trying to find buses or trains that are anywhere close to being on schedule. Park-and-ride lots work as a solution for some people, but that, of course, involves owning a car.

There are current and historical reasons behind MARTA’s inefficiency. Just like the roads that were planned on the fly as the city went along, MARTA had to come together quickly to make up for lost time, and its coverage reflects an earlier version of the Atlanta metro area, with plenty of unserved regions. This is because of the city’s initial refusal to — you guessed it — pass a referendum to create it. During the civil rights era, MARTA was as much a race-based political football as it was a planned system for public transit. Just like the 2012 referendum, those that had less of a need for MARTA said “not my problem” and voted against it.

And today, the state invests woefully little in public transit. Georgia spends 55 cents per person yearly on public transit. Massachusetts, by contrast, spends $376 per person. There is simply no money available to improve it.

Which is the problem that Atlanta now faces with the bridge collapse and highway closure. Having voted down all referenda that would have given the city a coffer from which to repair roads and infrastructure, Atlanta has no good option. Federal emergency funds were released after the collapse, and the Governor said it was enough for the short-term fix (on a very long projected work schedule) but not for a long-term solution.

That means the bridge, once repaired, will likely be worse off than it was before the fire. It’s worth noting that when federal funds are provided to states for transit emergencies like this one, the money usually winds up well spent. It’s just that those funds are limited and partly emergency-based.

This is an untenable situation. The stratification of wealth in Atlanta is exacerbated by this problem. Cars sitting in traffic are adding excessive carbon to the atmosphere, and businesses are losing money as people spend more time sitting in traffic. And other cities are close behind. So there needs to be a solution — before this problem gets so bad that people begin to leave these cities in droves.

I want to see communities making smart choices about modernizing their infrastructure. I wish this could be left in the hands of the Atlanta voter. But this suburb versus urban voter showdown seems here to stay, at least for now. It’s hard to change several million minds all at once.

The logical response, in view of local voter deadlock, is a federal investment in infrastructure. We know the state government has already made good use of what funds they’ve received, and we should trust them to do this again with money earmarked for infrastructure.

For the suburban commuters to see the value of their approving a measure like the one that failed in 2012, they have to see transportation funds in action. My hope is that the federal government does more than just support short-term fixes to the bridge, and instead makes a big investment in U.S. infrastructure across the board. It’s essential to our productivity and, for many citizens, is literally a life-or-death issue.

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Bi-partisan support in the Senate for AV/CV funding. Thank you to our Senator Tammy Baldwin!

Peters, Tillis Lead Colleagues in Calling for Funding to Advance Self-Driving Vehicles

USDOT Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds Will Serve as Hubs for Developing Advanced Automotive Technologies

April 7, 2017, Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) today led a bipartisan group of their Senate colleagues in a letter calling for increased funding to support the advancement of connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technologies. The letter specifically calls for Congress to appropriate funding for the safe development and testing of CAV technologies at U.S Department of Transportation (USDOT) federally-designated proving grounds. The letter was sent to Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI).

“The auto industry is in the midst of a seismic technological shift that will revolutionize the transportation of people and goods in our lifetime. Connected and self-driving cars can reduce dramatically the more than 35,000 lives lost on our roads and highways every year and fundamentally transform the way we get around,” wrote the Senators.

“Connected and automated vehicles are going to be developed abroad if we do not take the lead in making sure these technologies are advanced right here in the United States,” the Senators continued. “Identifying and selecting these initial proving grounds was a crucial first step, but USDOT must now be given the resources to work quickly to ensure that testing and evaluation at these facilities can begin as soon as possible.”

Connected and automated vehicle technologies have the potential to reduce traffic accidents, save thousands of lives lost on American roads each year, and ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of groundbreaking automotive innovation. Last year, at Senator Peters’ urging, USDOT opened a competition to designate national testing facilities for advanced automotive technologies. In January, USDOT named ten facilities across the country as federally-designated proving grounds for the development of automated vehicles. Prior to these designations, there was no national testing facility in the United States for CAV technologies.

The designees include:

  • American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run in Ypsilanti, MI
  • City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
  • Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
  • U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center in Aberdeen, MD
  • Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) & GoMentum Station
  • San Diego Association of Governments
  • Iowa City Area Development Group
  • Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds / University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
  • North Carolina Turnpike Authority

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

A copy of the letter is available here.

Source: United States Senator for Michigan Gary Peters

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Tractors, Hackers, and Other Factors: The Necessity of Neutral Third Parties in the AV Realm

When you imagine a farmer going about his workday, you probably envision some sort of bucolic series of tasks: milking cows, tilling soil, sowing seeds.

It’s a pretty safe bet that you wouldn’t imagine that farmer scouring subscription-only internet forums to find someone selling Ukrainian software that will help him hack his tractor. But that’s what’s happening today, according to a recent news report from Motherboard. In fact, the report says, it’s becoming so prevalent that there’s a “thriving black market” dedicated to the creation and sale of hacked tractor firmware. Just as the farmer supports his family based on his yearly crop yield, there are presumably Ukrainian families out there putting food on the table based on how many tractors their breadwinner managed to hack that month.

In the AV industry, there remain big questions about how everything is going to work. Over the past few months, car manufacturers have made big investments in AV tech, and that could be a very good thing: these companies have the money and the expertise needed to run the sort of tests that will get us closer to being able to roll out the next generation of vehicles safely. But some recent history –- the VW emissions scandal comes to mind –- suggests that we need to be careful not to put all our trust into one group.

Which brings us back to the Ukrainian tractor-hack. Farmers are saying they’re forced to go this route for a simple reason: John Deere, a major manufacturer of tractors that supplies the majority of farmers in the U.S., has recently updated their license agreement to stipulate that farmers must have all repairs done by mechanics that work for the manufacturer. According to one farmer, “you want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part.” In other words, without the hacked firmware, farmers are having to pay far more for repairs than their budgets allow.

That’s why the Ukrainian-firmware story is a cautionary tale for those of us interested in the safe rollout of autonomous vehicles. This problem could have been avoided if there were a system with a strong regulatory framework. A neutral third party would obviously have seen a company using its popularity to develop a monopoly on servicing vehicles. Instead, farmers are addressing the Nebraska state legislature, pleading for intervention.

While we surely want to see manufacturers involved and invested in the development of AV tech, and we want to ensure that it’s a profitable business for everyone involved, we cannot trust any single company or conglomerate to handle the specifics of how it all works on its own. There must be a system where neutral third parties vet the process. Otherwise, we risk car companies gaming the system for profit, putting lives and potentially the viability of the industry at risk. This is not a knock on car companies, or companies in general. They are essential to the development of AVs. But because there’s a lot of money to be made in this field, we must ensure that profit motive doesn’t trump safety at any point in the process.

A couple of examples of concerns related to this point. First, there’s security. These tractors can be hacked by a program on a USB stick. This is not a good look for the AV community, when one of our most-predicted downfalls has to do with hackers taking over vehicles at will. The safety and security of the systems will have to be thoroughly vetted. Security flaws in devices have been regularly reported as the tech industry has boomed. That’s partly because a security flaw may never be noticed and breached, and even if so, it’s not going to hurt the sale of a particular piece of technology unless it becomes a problem quickly, as the product is being rolled out.

And then there’s the data that will be collected by AVs as they hit the road. They won’t just be building maps, they’ll also collect data on themselves, their own performance and accuracy. Without a third-party auditor, what’s to stop a manufacturer from editing or just not reporting data that might hurt their brand? We’d like to think they would, on an ethical basis, be fully open and revealing with their data. But the adage “trust but verify” comes to mind. This is why we have regulatory groups all over the country – when there’s a profit motive involved, everything needs independent verification. And even if companies fully divulge all data to DOTs, there would need to be a group that could ensure its quality. If a group specializing in data quality saw that a particular car, or a particular navigation system, was consistently producing below-average data, they could allow the manufacturers to use that information to improve the product — thus heading off potential liability issues down the road.

Businesses moving into the field of independent verification of data quality and security seems like the most logical course of action. It would benefit everyone –- state governments wouldn’t have to spend inordinate amounts of money to hire experts to get it done, insurance companies would know in advance of any issues and could adapt their algorithms accordingly, vehicle and sensor manufacturers could be warned of problems with their equipment.

And Ukrainian hackers would have to hope tractor manufacturers didn’t notice.

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Cutting the Costs of Congestion

Does sitting in gridlocked rush-hour traffic seem worth $124 billion a year to you?

That’s the yearly cost of traffic congestion, according to Forbes’ coverage of a 2014 study by INRIX and the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Yes, you read that right. Not only is sitting in traffic a hassle for just about every individual that drives a car in the United States, it comes at a tremendous price.

The study breaks down the wasted money into two categories. Direct losses, which arise from wasted fuel, harm to the environment, and the loss of time devoted to productivity. And indirect losses arising from the extra expenses posed to businesses. It’s more expensive to transport goods, attend meetings and conduct business in congested areas. Businesses, of course, pass that cost on to consumers.

$124 billion is such a huge number, it invites some perspective. That’s more than what the U.S. government spends every year on transportation. Or on housing. Or on protecting the environment, scientific research, and tending to international affairs combined. Given the necessity of these programs, this large chunk of GDP disappearing every year for no tangible benefit isn’t just an annoying waste. It’s a tragic loss of badly-needed money, leaked minute-by-minute in traffic jams, every day, every year.

There’s good news: there is a solution. Experts tell us that AVs could reduce congestion by 80 percent or more. They’d be able to do this through vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Humans, of course, lack the ability to be in constant contact with other nearby drivers in traffic. As a result, moving through a traffic jam is quite inefficient. The majority of time wasted happens after the clearance of blockage ahead. There’s a start-stop chain effect as individual drivers recognize it’s safe to move forward. A few seconds here and there as each car in line starts to move on a badly congested highway adds up. Cars that communicate with one another can know, simultaneously, that it’s time to move and begin accelerating at the same rate as a unit – and that alone would end the traffic jam as we know it.

Bottom line, we’re not equipped, as AVs are, with sensors that allow us to see through visual obstacles to assess whatever’s ahead. We’re not in touch with other drivers. And even if we somehow were, it’d still be impossible for drivers to act with the precision necessary to move through slowly-unraveling traffic jams. The precision of movement promised by AVs acting in concert has countless benefits.

But wait, there’s even more good news: we don’t have to wait for the AV revolution. Because there is a lot to figure out when it comes to the cloud-based communication AVs will use, AVs are not likely to comprise the majority of cars on the road. Thus, they’re not a realistic fix in the short term. Luckily, smart cities and data collection specialists have roles to play as well. According to the Forbes coverage of the congestion waste study, “just as online traffic is managed through routers and optimized, traffic on the roadways could be better-managed and optimized through better data, which in turn would lead to dynamic traffic signal timing, dynamic high-occupancy vehicle lanes, congestion-based pricing.”

That’s right, real-time data collection would make a big difference in the battle against congestion. Satellite navigation systems, GPS in cars and trucks, information gathered by cellular carriers, and devoted smartphone applications can all provide layers of data which, once aggregated, can help dynamic infrastructure function at a level which would offset a large portion of total congestion.

As an example, Forbes’ coverage noted that Los Angeles – which has the dubious distinction of accounting for nearly 20 percent of the USA’s total congestion costs – recently took a stab at using data to cut congestion. They “used real traffic data to optimize the traffic signal timing on more than 10,000 traffic signals.” But one of the experts who conducted the study wasn’t satisfied with this effort, simply because it relied on static data. “What you really want is dynamic data, so that the traffic signals across a city could change dynamically in terms of intervals to better move traffic around a network,” the expert said.

So bottom line, while AVs show promise in the long run, smart infrastructure seemingly show promise in the short run. Further investment in the Internet of Everything and a smarter approach to data mapping and management are things we can do now. If we do, we’ll see a steady decline in congestion — and as a result, a rise in productivity and a decline in our carbon footprint, and household budgets will get some direly-needed relief as less money winds up going to gas. We still have many advances yet to make in clearing the way for the AV revolution, but investing in smart infrastructure would be a heck of a good start.

It reminds me of the old saying: “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” In this case, which set of benefits will lead to the next set of benefits – smart infrastructure or AVs?

I say who cares, give me my scrambled eggs.

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Autonomous Vehicles and Opportunity

America is the land of opportunity – unless you can’t afford to buy a car and don’t live in a city that has made significant investments in public transit.

In that case, it’s the land of inescapable poverty for millions of citizens.

According to a 2015 New York Times analysis of an ongoing Harvard study, “commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty … and building a better life.” The study determined that, on average, the longer a person’s commute, the lower the pay that person will earn for their time.

To appreciate how serious this problem is, it would help to know these facts: access to reliable and affordable transportation is a bigger factor in building a better life for oneself than crime, test scores in schools, or living in a two-parent home. When certain politicians blame a poor community’s struggles on these things and leave out transportation, they’re mistaken.

It’s pretty simple when you think about it. Imagine you live in the inner city as a person in poverty. Most of your neighbors are also poor. You rely on a bus system that only has a few stops throughout the city and that sometimes takes hours to move you just a few miles, between bus changes and unplanned delays. So you can really only make it to a job somewhere that’s within a few miles of where you live. That distance isn’t likely to to be far enough to get you to work in a more affluent area. So your options are limited to low-paying jobs. Want to go to school, improve your credentials, find a new career? Good luck getting to campus for night school when you already spend half the night riding a series of buses back to your neighborhood.

If that’s not bad enough, here’s the salt in the wound: if you are in this situation to begin with, counting on unreliable mass transit for your commute, you’re spending a higher percentage of your net income on transportation than someone who works a higher-paying job and drives a car to work. It’s simply unfair and unjust, and does not reflect the ideals the nation was founded upon.
But there is hope.

A big knock on AVs has been that they’re going to be too expensive, and the tech itself will be the province of the wealthy. That’s a false premise. People won’t need to own AVs, necessarily, to reap their benefits.

Cabs cost a lot of money for one simple reason: the drivers. People driving cabs for a living need to be paid a living wage for their work, or there would be no cabs. And the same goes for city buses. Bus drivers must be paid too. When only a small percentage of a city is using the bus system, the city is drawing on a pretty limited source of income from fares, and so the rates climb higher and higher.

But in a fully autonomous vehicle, people could ride-share for a fraction of the cost of a bus ticket, and thus make it to their destination – door to door, no vehicle changes or long walks required – in an amount of time the average person would deem reasonable for a commute. In cities where ride-shares from companies like Uber have been ongoing for a while now, the cost, even with a driver, is around a quarter of what a taxi would have cost. When there’s no need for a driver, that price is predicted to drop even more.

The same goes for buses. As buses become more reliable as a result of automation, they’ll be able to cover more ground and move more quickly. They’ll have to stay competitive with private companies offering ride-shares, and the massive reduction in overhead in terms of bus driver salaries will allow them to price their services even lower.

The result of this increased mobility could be huge. The Harvard study tracked kids in the 1980s and 90s whose families moved to areas with better public transit, and the results were astounding: the average kid who moved ended up earning about ten percent more, on average, than those who didn’t. That number would be higher, by the way, if it only focused on kids who moved early in their childhoods – the younger the child was when moved to an area with easier access to educational and extracurricular opportunities, the better off they were as adults.

So AVs don’t just offer improvements to safety, even though if you searched a news database for AV benefits, you’d find mostly safety articles. By increasing mobility for the economically disadvantaged, they have the promise of bringing the American dream in reach for millions of people. Now that is good news.

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Choosing How to Use Our Land

Next time you’re heading out of a big shopping center or a mall, scanning the endless sea of cars and trying to remember where you parked, take a moment to picture something completely different: a narrow drop-off/pick up lane, and beyond it, a tranquil, leafy park.

For now, you’re stuck with the parking lot. But that could change – this is a story about how we, as a community, choose to use our land.

A 2014 study of six cities conducted by UConn, in partnership with the State Smart Transportation Initiative, showed that “when measuring the amount of space given to parking … tax revenues for that real estate tend to be much lower than for other types of development.”

There’s one simple reason for that. Each and every parking spot in a city is taking up space that otherwise could be occupied by business, homes, schools. The study puts this in staggering economic terms. In Hartford, Conn., whose zeal for parking lot growth is about on par with the average American city, every individual parking space represents $1,200 lost yearly in potential tax revenue.

The total cost of parking spaces to Hartford? $50 million per year. This in a city where all downtown real estate brings in $75 million in municipal revenues. Imagine what cities would be able to do with an infusion of 66% extra revenue, if only all those parking spaces weren’t necessary.

Making matters worse, car-dependent communities devote more land to parking than you might expect. A 2007 Purdue study found that “the total area devoted to parking in a midsize Midwestern county … outnumbered resident drivers 3-to-1.” That’s right — in an average county, for every car, whether it’s on the road or not, there are three parking spots out there waiting for it. A Planetizen analysis of the Purdue study, among other studies, points out that “a city must devote between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet per automobile.”

When that’s all tallied up, Planitzen writer Todd Litman says, land used for parking “exceeds the amount of land devoted to housing per capita for moderate to high development densities … and is far more land than most urban neighborhoods devote to public parks.”

Of course, if we slashed the amount of land devoted to parking in cities, we’d simply be creating massive congestion problems as people circled blocks looking for somewhere to park. The surprising amount of waste imposed by parking lots is one of many burdens on society imposed by car culture.

And this is yet another externality that AVs promise to offset. With the advent of AV tech, and its steady evolution over the next decade or two, the need for parking lots will decrease dramatically. Experts agree that AVs will eventually be safe enough to be trusted to park themselves in designated lots — in much tighter confines, without the need for people to enter or exit their cars upon parking — a few miles outside of a city after dropping you off at an area close to the entrance of the mall. When you’re ready to leave, you’d simply summon it with your smartphone and it would dutifully return to carry you to your next destination.

This advance couldn’t come at a more opportune time. The UN recently estimated that by 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in urban centers across the globe. Under the current circumstances, if just one billion of those people drive a car, that would necessitate three billion new parking spaces. This is obviously untenable, especially considering cities will need to add housing and infrastructure to fit all the newcomers.

So while hunting for your car in a gigantic parking lot in a shopping mall is annoying and visually unappealing, it’s just a tiny piece of a mounting global emergency. Luckily for us, the solution – to this, along with other crises imposed by car culture – is a top priority of tech researchers and car manufacturers across the globe. If AV tech is rolled out safely and responsibly, this sprawling predicament will soon become a thing of the past.

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“Algorithm Aversion” and Scary Headlines

If it bleeds, it leads.

That’s the long-accepted dictum of how a news organization makes its biggest profit margin. News outlets provide an essential public service, but they must survive as businesses as well. Psychology Today noted this trend, saying that “news is a money-making industry, one that doesn’t always make the goal to report the facts accurately.”

Perhaps that’s why the Washington Post’s science section recently ran an article — the meat of which ended up being an exploration of why public fears of autonomous vehicles (AVs) are irrational — under the headline “Will the Public Accept the Fatal Mistakes of Self-Driving Cars?”

The article explored the idea of “algorithm aversion,” which, according to the Post and its sources, is the idea that “people are … more inclined to forgive mistakes by humans than machines.” The story cites public anxieties about refrigerators in the 1920s as a parallel example to current concerns about AVs, noting that “although scientists understood that cold storage could cut down on food-borne illnesses, reports of refrigeration equipment catching fire or leaking toxic gas made the public wary.”

All true, and a pertinent parallel. So why did the article need to begin with the line “How many people could self-driving cars kill before we would no longer tolerate them?” It might grab a reader’s attention, but the attention-grabbing part essentially represents the direct opposite of what the piece is about. This question is discarded and never addressed as the article proceeds. What purpose does it serve other than to stoke fear and get clicks?

Other recent articles in the pages of the Post follow this trend. When Uber rolled out its self-driving test back in September, the paper covered it. Buried in the article were some important facts: in the seventh paragraph, the writer mentioned that the vehicles “will have two trained safety drivers on each ride.” The twentieth paragraph — third from the bottom — briefly described Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto’s first ride in one of the Uber vehicles, of which he said “There was no time I was fearful or worried … I’m more worried when I’m on the road with an 18-year-old who is learning how to drive.”

That all sounds pretty good — so why did that article need the headline “Why Uber is Turning The Streets of a U.S. City into its Laboratory”? Or, in another article, why refer to voluntary Uber AV passengers as “guinea pigs”? A whole city reduced to an experimental lab? Humans as powerless and expendable as test-subject “guinea pigs”? Sounds positively dystopian. But, to anyone that knows about AV tech, it also sounds ludicrous and dramatically overstated.

Elon Musk weighed in on this issue back in October, saying “if, in writing some article that’s negative, you effectively dissuade people from using an autonomous vehicle, you’re killing people. Next question.” That’s a big statement — but unfortunately, it’s correct.

The fact of the matter is that AVs promise a level of safety that is currently impossible in our world of error-prone human drivers. The Post has quoted quite a few experts in many articles to that effect. But in order to address the logical fallacy of “algorithm aversion,” do they really need to sell the story using attention-grabbing headlines and scare quotes? The stakes are too high to be using frightening language.

Because the real “bleeding” that should “lead” are facts that, while far more dramatic than the material being covered in the AV realm, are perhaps not “news”, since they’ve been known for many years now. Each year, over 35,000 people die in car accidents. A full third of these come from intoxicated drivers. Another third are the result of reckless speeding. Distracted drivers represent another twelve percent. Human error is the cause of 94% of auto-related deaths. And across all modes of transport, these automobile deaths represent 95% of total fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And perhaps one reason the total number of airplane and watercraft deaths are in the three-digit range instead of deca-thousands is that each relies on some degree of automation to reduce human error.

If the Washington Post is actually concerned about safety, perhaps it should start covering the 92 people killed every day in this country as a result of human error behind the wheel. They wouldn’t even need clever turns of phrase or headlines that don’t correspond to the information below them: the number itself is scary enough on its own.

Apparently “algorithm aversion” leads us to forgive human error more than we do machine error. But does that make it right?

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What We Can and Cannot Say About the Tesla Crash

Last year, the National Highway Safety Transportation Association (NHSTA) conducted an investigation of Tesla’s Autopilot Software following a deadly, May 7, Model S. accident in Williston, Florida. The accident – which killed the car’s driver – was the first in a series of high-profile AV accidents, involving a variety of AV manufacturers, which skyrocketed public concern about the safety of autonomous vehicles.

Although the accidents are tragic, it is still premature to draw any conclusions about AV safety.

Statistically speaking, it is not yet possible to make a clear comparison between the safety of autonomous vehicles and human-driven vehicles. As of July 2016, the most autonomous miles driven by any developer — which turns out to be Tesla — was about 1.3 million. According to Susan M. Paddock, a senior statistician at RAND and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, “this does not come close to the level of driving that is needed to calculate safety rates. Even if autonomous vehicle fleets are driven 10 million miles, one still would not be able to draw statistical conclusions about safety and reliability.”

With so few AV miles driven, experts can’t estimate the impact AVs would have on, for instance, the 2.3 million car-related injuries reported in 2013, of which 32,719 resulted in deaths. That’s one fatality per 100 million miles driven.

According to the NHSTA, human errors such as driving too fast, alcohol impairment, distraction, and fatigue are the cause of more than 90 percent of automobile crashes. While it is safe to say that an autonomous vehicle is not likely to get drunk or sleepy, we are still in the data collection phase of evaluating the overall safety of these autonomous systems.

That said, it would also be premature to draw conclusions that discredit the potential of this autonomous technology.

After all, we’ve been here before. Take a look at the airline industry: in the short history of airline safety, the first great turning point occurred in the 1950s with the introduction of the jet engine, which was far more reliable than the behemoth piston-engine that preceded it. The second turning point followed with advances in sensor technology, computing, and artificial intelligence: like the introduction of GPS, aircraft avoidance systems and ground-proximity alarms in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Today, an aircraft is generally flown by a computer autopilot that tracks its position using motion sensors and dead reckoning, corrected as necessary with GPS. Software systems may even be used to land commercial aircraft. In a recent survey of airline pilots, those operating Boeing 777s on a typical flight reported spending just seven minutes manually piloting their planes; pilots operating Airbus planes spend half that time.

The safety outcomes of commercial airline automation have been tremendous. The year 2015 marks the safest year of airplane travel to date. The chances of dying on any given flight with one of the world’s major airlines are just one in 4.7 million; in any given year, you have a higher chance of getting struck by lightning, at one in 1.9 million. In the 1970s, an average of 68 commercial planes crashed each year. Last year, of the total 33.4 million flights, only 21 crashed.

As aviation safety expert Carl Rochelle puts it, “the most dangerous part of your airline flight is the trip to the airport.”

So how did flying become so safe?

The unfortunate reality is that the industry learned a great deal from its failures, most notably from its crashes. By examining downed plane wreckages and black-box recorders, they engineered solutions to the problems.

In the wake of the deadly Tesla accident, what we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor-trailer took a left-hand turn across the road, perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver seemed to notice the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky. The brake was never applied.

Sadly, in this case, the technology appears to have failed. But let’s not allow unsubstantiated fear about the overall safety of autonomous vehicles dictate how we move forward. Instead, let’s do what we’ve always done: embrace innovation and look for technology-based solutions that captivate our imaginations while ensuring that safety is the number one priority.

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