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Director of Business Development and Programs - Stantec GenerationAV
Deployment: A Transportation Technology Policy Update
This update reports on policy and regulatory issues associated with emerging transportation technologies and solutions. The updates are complemented by solution-minded analysis based on the team’s experience and knowledge. Policy is an important tool in managing and leveraging the power and opportunity of innovative transportation technologies, and this update will be sent every two weeks to arm you with need-to-know developments. Please reach out with any questions, feedback, or suggestions!Subscribe
week ending 02-17-23
Airline Industry Looking Towards Increasing Automation of the Skies
According to a February 3, 2023 article posted on Axios.com, the airline industry is researching ways to enhance and increase the current autopilot systems on aircraft to address an increasing variety of situations. This includes an Airbus system called DragonFly designed to enable automatic landings in bad weather, handle in-flight emergencies and reduce the duties of human pilots while taxiing. A separate company is working on gate-to-gate autonomous cargo flights.
Why it Matters:
- The unique requirements of airlines and consequences of computer malfunctions in the air means that no one is seriously considering removing human pilots from passenger aircraft entirely. However, there has been talk of potentially reducing the staffing to one human pilot which is encountering resistance from pilots from a safety and labor perspective.
- For the time being, it appears that the technology is being assessed to take on an ever-greater number of tasks to increase safety on the ground and in the air.
Waymo and Cruise Robotaxis Are Logging Significant Miles in San Francisco While City Opposition to Expansion Continues
Reporting on the breaking news of technology, Verge.com posted an article on January 31, 2023 detailing how Waymo and Cruise recently reported a record number of miles driven by their driverless vehicles in the most recent reporting period, which ended November 30 of last year. Although the number of miles overall is still small (in the several thousands), there has been a steady increase over time. All of this comes amid opposition from the City of San Francisco to the companies proposed significant expansion of its service and recent concerns over robotaxis blocking traffic and posing public safety risks.
Why it Matters:
- As mentioned in previous newsletters, there have been several incidents of driverless vehicles blocking traffic and creating traffic jams. NHTSA has launched an investigation due to concerns about Cruise vehicles causing rear-end collisions as a result of hard breaking and blocking traffic. On the other hand, a number of other consumers and reporters have noted smooth rides in the vehicles.
- Even with the best of technology, there are bound to be bumps in the road as the technology matures. Cruise and Waymo have shown increasing confidence in their technology by seeking to commercially operate driverless vehicles throughout San Francisco, which is one of the most challenging urban driving environments in North America. Separately, Cruise recently received permission from the California DMV to test its new Cruise Origin vehicle (which has no steering wheel) on public roads.
- There is tension between the City of San Francisco, which wants to be consulted on deployments and has concerns about the impact on transit use and safety, and the AV companies, which are operating vehicles that are traditionally regulated at the state and federal levels, not locally.
Investment and Interest Continues for Non-Passenger Autonomous Vehicles
On February 1, 2023, Reuters, the news and media division of Thomson Reuters, posted a six minute read about how the financial investment continues to flow to non-passenger autonomous vehicles, targeting areas that are more straightforward to deploy. For example, British AV software startup Oxbotica received $140m in funding for AVs with a focus on operating in mines and remote areas. U.S. startup Outrider announced about $73m in funding to rollout self-driving trucks that operate at low speeds in customer distribution yards.
Why it Matters:
- While passenger autonomous vehicles continue to expand their reach, the current investment reflects an interest in operating in less challenging regulatory and safety environments where AVs can potentially be deployed more quickly and with less hurdles.
- One area of particular interest is mining. Jamie Vollbracht, a founding partner of Kiko Ventures stated that mining companies stand to lose millions of dollars per hour in certain areas if they are unable to find a human driver, making it a ripe target to utilize autonomous vehicles to supplement human labor.
- Companies like Caterpillar Inc, Deere & Co and CNH Industrial NV have invested significantly in agricultural AV technology and have begun selling automated equipment to customers to help improve farming efficiency.
Researchers Examine a Special Traffic Light to Guide Flow of Traffic with AVs
On February 7, 2023, Matt Shipman shared how researchers at North Carolina State University are examining the potential of using a fourth traffic light, a “white light” (aside from red, yellow and green) to help with traffic flow when autonomous vehicles are operating beside and among human driven traffic. The white light is essentially a signal from the AVs to human drivers that AVs are coordinating their movement to improve efficiency and that human driven traffic can simply continue to follow the actions of traffic in front of them, whether stopping, starting or proceeding through the intersection.
Why it Matters:
- There are likely to be regular instances of AVs operating in mixed traffic (a combination of human and autonomous) in the future. An important issue that remains to be resolved is how such vehicles will interact in a mixed environment, and how they will communicate to maintain and improve traffic flow. This idea is one attempt to help address this issue.
- This concept has been tested in simulation but it remains to be seen whether it could work in real life. Researchers did see significant improvements in the simulations in traffic flow when multiple AVs were in operation.
OEM Offers EV Subscription Plan
Green Car Reports posted an article on February 9, 2023 how Hyundai is bringing back its EV subscription program, aimed at providing “flexible access to electric vehicles.” For a locked-in monthly price, it’s wrapping in the vehicle plus insurance, roadside assistance, and maintenance. Pricing depends on the model and mileage, and it starts at $699 a month for the Kona Electric and $899 a month for the Ioniq 5.
Why it Matters:
- Consumer interest in EVs is increasing, but some car buyers are hesitant to make the jump. A subscription model would allow EV-curious drivers to adopt a battery electric vehicle without committing to a full purchase. However, there will likely be significant “fine print” resulting in additional monthly fees.
- This model could serve as an on-ramp for commercial entities to begin transitioning their fleets from ICE to battery electric, though the article notes that Hyundai has incorporated terms into this subscription model to disallow their vehicles to be used for ridehailing.
Concerns About Grid Reliability Continue
Based on an anticipated update of battery electric vehicles, analysts and economic forecasters are expressing concern about the ability of the U.S. grid to handle increase demand that will result from adoption of EVs. This information was published in The Wall Street Journal in February 2023 by Bart Ziegler. Projections of how much electricity EVs will consume in coming years vary widely. The Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit that gives guidance to the power industry, estimates that EVs of all sorts, including buses and commercial trucks, will boost the nation’s overall use of electricity between 8% and 13% by 2030 from 2021.
Why it Matters:
- This storyline is not new, however it is notable when a publication as prominent as the Wall Street Journal chooses to dig in on the topic. Its readership is also more diverse than more niche EV publications, so expect to hear more about this concern from a range of stakeholders.
- Grid enhancements are mentioned prominently throughout the article, and for good reason. They will be necessary as the demand for electricity increases but improving transmission infrastructure is expensive and can get mired in right-of-way questions.
Adoption of Battery EV Trucks is Increasing
CNBC.com published a “State of Freight” article on February 10, 2023 about how the trucking industry is beginning its transition to electric vehicles, but it’s going to be short-haul EV trucks that are first adopted. Due to the limitations that EV truck batteries face in mileage range, they’re best suited for drayage transportation, or the movement of goods across short distances. Schneider, a truckload, intermodal and logistics service, announced its battery-electric truck fleet back in 2021, and the first BEV arrived at a Southern California port this year.
Why it Matters:
- Medium and heavy duty vehicles emit a larger percentage of greenhouse gases on a per vehicle basis than light duty vehicles. However their transition from ICE drivetrains to battery electric is much more difficult. Issues include the need for a larger battery, concerns about the battery weigh decreasing payload availability, charging time, and access to dedicated charging stations.
- As mentioned in the article, drayage applications are the most sensible at this point in battery technology, such as port movements, port to warehouse routes, or trips under 200 miles.
- The total cost of ownership of ICE trucks as compared to battery EV trucks is still not there yet, mostly because diesel vehicles stay in fleets for so long and thus there aren’t as many opportunities for turnover as there are for passenger vehicles.
NHTSA Administrator Nomination
A two minute read was posted on Reuters on February 13, 2023 that President Biden nominated the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Ann Carlson, to serve as agency administrator. A Senate confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Why it Matters:
- NHTSA has been challenged by leadership changes, which has had an impact on the agency’s ability to do work on AVs.
- If Carlson is confirmed, NHTSA will likely speed up work on ADS-equipped vehicles, especially with regards to exemptions request, the existing Standing General Order, and considerations of FMVSS changes. These sorts of actions are what state DOTs and legislators are looking for as they consider state-level motor vehicle legislation.
- Carlson joined the agency in January 2021 as Chief Counsel. Her background is in the legal field, and she is known for her scholarship on environmental law.
All the recommendations are free to access
- Planetizen – Planetizen | Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education
- Robotics & Automation News – Robotics & Automation News – Market trends and business perspectives (roboticsandautomationnews.com)
- Industry Dive Publications – About – Industry Dive
- Government Technology – Government Technology State & Local Articles – e.Republic (govtech.com)
- SAE Smart Brief – SAE SmartBrief – News – SAE Smart Brief
- Route Fifty – Route Fifty – State and Local News and Analysis (route-fifty.com)