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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 03-17-23
GM Unveils Next Generation Advanced Driver Assistance System “Ultra Cruise”
The Verge, a website committed to technology’s breaking news and reviews, recently shared an article about auto manufacturer General Motors and the updates on its “Ultra Cruise” system. GM plans to debut it in select vehicle models in 2023, starting with Cadillac. First announced in 2021, the system uses sensors including cameras, radars, and lidar to control a vehicle’s steering, acceleration, and braking. According to GM, this system will “ultimately enable hands-free driving in 95 percent of all driving scenarios” and including “every paved road in the U.S. and Canada.”
Why it Matters:
- Ultra Cruise is considered an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) – in other words, an assistant to a driver, not a replacement. The driver is still required to intervene when necessary to take over control. This is in contrast to automated driving systems (ADS), which are designed to operate without a human driver.
- A major concern about ADAS is that the driver may not be ready to take control when prompted, creating a dangerous condition. According to the article, “[t]here have been studies that show that the handoff between the automated system and a human driver can be especially fraught.” This is an important issue that should be watched as the technology evolves.
- Super Cruise, the predecessor to Ultra Cruise, is capable of completely hands-free driving across more than 200,000 miles of divided highway across North America, so Ultra Cruise could be a significant upgrade if it performs as advertised.
Embark Trucking Evaluates Shutting Operations as Industry Consolidates
A March 6, 2023 Reuters.com article highlighted autonomous trucking company Embark’s recent announcement that it will be laying off 70 percent of its workforce, and shutting down its Southern California and Houston offices. The company is evaluating next steps, including closing the business entirely.
Why it Matters:
- Embark became a public company in 2021 through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) deal and is backed by several investment firm. This news not only impacts venture capital but regular public investors who bought shares in the company.
- Embark’s news is part of what one might call a significant wave of recent consolidation and closures. Autonomous vehicle company Argo AI closed last year, although Ford recently announced that it was launching a subsidiary called Latitude AI formed of 550 former Argo employees.
- It remains to be seen whether the Embark news portends any further closures or consolidations. While some see this news as example of the hype bubble bursting, others have noted that closures and consolidations are part of the normal life cycle of many evolving industries and that other companies continue to push forward. Indeed, the founders of recently shuttered Argo AI are planning on starting a new company to be based in Pittsburgh
Waymo Announces Plans to Start Testing Autonomous Vehicles in Los Angeles
Engadget.com detailed the recent news that autonomous vehicle company Waymo has announced plans to begin testing driverless vehicles without a human safety attendant in Los Angeles. Utilizing Jaquar I-Pace vehicles, Waymo’s vehicles are ultimately designed to operate as a commercial robotaxi service in the future.
Why it Matters:
- It is important to understand the scope of this testing. For the time being, the testing in Los Angeles is expected to follow the same path as Waymo’s work elsewhere: a limited number of vehicles only available to riders in the Waymo Research Trusted Tester program. In order to eventually commercialize any service in Los Angeles, Waymo will need approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.
- Waymo’s announcement is significant in that Los Angeles is a major commercial market and so far has been mostly under the radar in terms of autonomous vehicles. In recent months, Waymo vehicles (driven by humans) have been seen mapping streets in Los Angeles for future AV testing and deployment.
- It will be interesting to track whether Waymo’s announcement spurs additional companies to enter the Los Angeles AV market, which is the second biggest metropolitan area in the U.S. after New York. Autonomous vehicle company Motional now has a significant employee presence in Los Angeles and others may follow suit.
Battery Electric Trash Trucks in California
On March 3, 2023, Govtech.com posted how the city of Santa Cruz has added a virtually silent, emission-free garbage truck to its 27-truck fleet with the use of grant funding from the Monterey Bay Air Resources District and the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust. The zero emissions garbage truck has a 290 kWh total battery capacity, which allows the vehicle to hold a charge for about eight hours. The vehicle takes a little more than an hour to recharge, and uses a FreeWire Boost 200 EV Charger that is hooked up to the city corporation yard’s solar electric system, already in place.
Why it Matters:
- Medium and heavy duty vehicles continue to prove challenging to convert to renewable energy for a few reasons: heavier vehicles need larger batteries, it takes longer to recharge larger batteries, and range limitations are severe. However, the operating domain of a garbage truck is a great application for battery electric powertrains, and while it isn’t the flashiest application, it is worthwhile to support.
- The article doesn’t specify who manufactures the vehicle being used in Santa Cruz, but BYD, Lion Electric, and Mack are some of the largest companies who have battery electric refuse collection vehicles available today.
- Cost is a barrier to transitioning from ICE vehicles to battery electric, especially within this weight class, however CA has invested heavily in grants and rebates to make it more feasible. These policy actions should be studied over time to determine their success.
Nuclear Plant Produces Clean Hydrogen
Manufacturing Dive published an article in March 20223 that Constellation Energy announced its Nine Mile Point Nuclear Plant in Oswego, New York, has begun producing hydrogen at its demonstration-scale clean hydrogen production facility, using 1.25 MW of energy per hour to produce 560 kilograms of clean hydrogen a day. The company plans to invest $900 million through 2025 to advance commercial clean hydrogen production. Their goal is to produce at scale to provide clean energy for otherwise hard-to-decarbonize industries like aviation, long haul transportation, steelmaking and agriculture.
Why it Matters:
- Hydrogen produced through nuclear energy is called “pink hydrogen,” and many claim it’s the most effective way to produce hydrogen cleanly. Nuclear energy in general, however, has a PR problem and that has caused nuclear energy development and production to stall in this country.
- Hydrogen as a fuel source is receiving a lot of attention and funding given its potential to cleanly decarbonize heavy duty industries. Battery electric energy has not proven its efficiency in the context of heavy duty vehicles or industrial energy uses, whereas hydrogen does seem more applicable to those more carbon-heavy energy users.
- Battery electricity is dominant as an alternative fuel source in the light duty space but it will be important to stay on top of trends in the medium- and heavy-duty sectors.
Transit Looks to the Curb for a Financial Lifeline
A March 2023 article on Government Technology shared that public transit in San Francisco is looking to some of the city’s most prized real estate for financial help — the street curb. Officials at SFMTA have advocated for rethinking outdated parking policy around nights and weekends to capture more revenue from the meter. “I don’t think you should park for free when you go out to spend $300 on a dinner in San Francisco. I think you should pay the meter,” said Tom Maguire, director of streets at SFMTA.
Why it Matters:
- Especially post-pandemic, transit operators have had to make hard decisions in the face of declining ridership, which has led to smaller budgets. Looking to the curb as a funding source for public transit is a creative approach and could prove revolutionary if successful.
- “You have a finite supply of curb space, and you have an infinite demand for that curb space,” said Gene Oh, CEO of Tranzito, a digital curb management firm. SFMTA could capture an additional $15.8 million a year from expanding paid street parking to nights and weekends, according to a “budget overview” released by SFMTA in March 2022.
Congressional Anti-Congestion Toll Caucus Forms in Response to NYC Proposal
The New York Post published a story in March 2023 how congress members from both sides of the Hudson River have formed a bipartisan caucus aimed at scuttling the MTA’s controversial congestion pricing plan to toll drivers entering the Midtown Manhattan business district. The caucus includes New York GOP Reps. Nicole Malliotakis and Michael Lawler and New Jersey Reps. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat, and Tom Kean Jr., a Republican.
Why it Matters:
- Passed in 2019, the MTA’s congestion pricing program aims to reduce overall traffic in Manhattan’s downtown by charging anywhere from $9 to $23.
- While announcing the newly-formed caucus, Malliotakis and Gottheimer also said they’re introducing legislation that — if approved — would have the inspector general of the US Transportation Department examine the MTA’s books.
- If an issue is high-profile enough, federal legislators will get involved in state issues. Rollout of the City congestion pricing plan has proven extremely difficult to date and bipartisan congressional attention will become yet one more significant hurdle and may even scuttle the plan entirely.
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)