August 2021 Tech Updates

  • Author: Kevin Chambers
  • Date: August 30, 2021

This month’s tech updates include spiraling TNC prices, new AV services coming on line, driver assistance vs automated vehicles, grids both micro and macro, some changes for the leading MaaS apps, and electric robotaxis in question.


Chicago Sees No Let Up in a Ride-Share Price Surge by Sarah Freishtat, Chicago Tribune
“The average ride-share trip in June cost a little more than the average trip by taxi, which is regulated by the city. That was a reversal from two years earlier when passengers paid nearly $2 more to travel by cab.”

Why Are Uber And Lyft So Expensive Right Now? by Nicole Spector, Yahoo! Finance
“‘The pandemic demonstrated the volatility of the ride-hailing industry with early sharp reductions in passenger demand and subsequent reductions in driver supply,’ said Stan Caldwell, executive director of Carnegie Mellon’s Traffic21 Institute.”

Group backed by Uber, Lyft pushes Massachusetts gig worker ballot measure by Nate Raymond and Tina Bellon, Reuters
“A coalition of app-based companies, including Uber Technologies Inc, Lyft Inc and DoorDash Inc, on Wednesday took the first step to put a measure before Massachusetts voters that would define their drivers as independent contractors entitled to minimum benefits but avoid having them declared their employees.”

End of the line for Uber by Cory Doctorow
Pointed opinions from journalist Cory Doctorow on the past, present, and future of Uber. “Uber was not incrementalism in service to sound, sustainable and resilient urban transport – it was a shiny distraction that made it harder to do stuff that does work, like dedicated bus lanes.” 

Autonomous Vehicles

Nation’s largest self-driving electric shuttle network launches by Sharon Udasin, The Hill
“The fleet of nine driverless, zero-emission vehicles will shuttle Colorado School of Mines students and staff, as well as members of the public, from key spots in the city to various points on campus for at least the next year.”

California’s first AV public passenger service could provide key industry and market data by Chris Teale, Smart Cities Dive
General Motors-owned Cruise will operate the first-ever driverless car service in the state. Others in the space said they hope to learn a lot — including how the public reacts — from its efforts.

NFI, Robotic Research sign agreement to bring automated driving systems to North American transit agencies, Mass Transit
“The agreement expands the partnership between New Flyer of America Inc. and Robotic Research originally announced in 2019”

Forget autonomy: Here’s how driving becomes safer by Greg Nichols, ZDNet
“According to Stefan Heck, PhD, CEO of Nauto, a leader in AI-powered advanced driver assistance systems. With the belief that fully autonomous driving is still years away, Heck’s answer to the mounting number of collisions and fatalities in 2020 is to help drivers, not replace them. To that end, Nauto’s technology underpins sophisticated safety systems for hundreds of the world’s top large-scale fleets, and customers are achieving up to an 80% reduction in a collision loss. The company estimates that has translated into over $300 million in savings.”

Driverless? No, But How About the Car as Co-Pilot? by Stefan Nicola, Bloomberg
“[Advanced driver-assistance] systems are making driving safer and easier than ever, although some notable crashes have led regulators to subject them to greater scrutiny. Meanwhile, the transition to completely autonomous, go-anywhere cars remains a distant goal.”

Musing On That Rising Speculation About Wanting To Ditch The Vaunted Topmost Level 5 Of The Self-Driving Cars Autonomous Rating Scale by Lance Eliot, Forbes
The 5-point scale used to categorize vehicle automation is leaves a lot to desired. Here’s a deep dive into its discontents. “Regrettably, they would stridently argue, the Level 5 is firmly implanted in the standard which anoints it with officialdom that will continue to be a deceptive allure like that of a Venus Fly Trap. The solution then is patently obvious, they would say, namely, kick out that troublesome and overinflated Level 5 from the standard. Erase it. Knock it off the lofty perch.”

The Big Problem with Self-driving Cars Is People by Rodney Brooks, IEEE Spectrum
“Right now, the new technology with the biggest buzz is the self-driving car. Are there any likely unintended consequences of the widespread adoption of self-driving cars? You bet there are! I can think of two: Such cars will be pariahs, and their owners will act obnoxiously.”

U.S. Will Investigate Tesla’s Autopilot System Over Crashes With Emergency Vehicles by Neal E. Boudette and Niraj Chokshi, New York Times
“It will be the broadest look yet at Tesla’s assisted-driving technology. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the authority to force a recall or require new safety features.” Coverage also at National Public Radio.

Waymo Is 99% of the Way to Self-Driving Cars. The Last 1% Is the Hardest by Gabrielle Coppola and Mark Bergen, Bloomberg
“The world’s most famous autonomous car shop has lost its CEO and is still getting stymied by traffic cones. What’s taking so long?” That 99% percent figure is, well, questionable.

A secret weapon for self-driving car startups: Humans by Hyunjoo Jin, Reuters
“‘Just a few years back, remote human assistance was a dirty little secret in this space,’ said Elliot Katz, co-founder of teleoperation firm Phantom Auto. ‘Virtually no one talked about it publicly because there was still this facade that these vehicles were just going to be able to drive autonomously, everywhere they need to go and do everything that a human driver would do.’ He added: ‘Everyone now knows that’s not going to be the case.'”

Vehicle Electrification

Microgrids + mass transit = resilient mobility in a future clouded by climate change by Gordon Feller, Canary Media
“Transit agencies can use microgrids to cleanly power electric buses and other systems during blackouts, but they’ll likely need help building them.”

Next-Generation Battery Pioneer Sees Breakthroughs Coming by David Stringer and Akshat Rathi, Bloomberg
“Carnegie Mellon’s Venkat Viswanathan talks about how robots and machine learning are accelerating progress.”

Federal program to cut bus emissions gets a Senate mandate: Some buses must pollute by Michael Laris, The Washington Post
“The 42-word passage shows the difficulty of getting the federal government fully behind efforts to address emissions and climate change
In a legislative turn of phrase with far-reaching implications, the bill says that for at least a quarter of spending in the $5.6 billion program, the secretary of transportation shall ‘only consider eligible projects related to the acquisition of low or no emission buses or bus facilities other than zero emission vehicles and related facilities.'”

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill is a baby step toward the US grid we need by James Temple, MIT Technology Review
“It will take hundreds of billions of dollars, and far faster approvals, to build the interconnected network required to clean up the power sector.”

Why A Looming Copper Shortage Has Big Consequences For The Green Economy by CNBC
“In May 2021, commodities analysts at Goldman Sachs called copper ‘the new oil.’ That’s because electric cars need several times more copper than their gas-powered counterparts. And power grids getting electricity from wind, solar and hydro sources also need copper—much more than the industry is currently producing.”

Mobility as a Service and New Mobility

Pittsburgh launches the country’s first integrated mobility system, connecting all transit options in one app by Michael Machosky, NEXTpittsburgh
“Pittsburgh just got another first, this one in transportation. Now you can ditch your car and download an app to get anywhere in town using multiple modes of transit. The new Transit app will let you find a bus, ‘T,’ bike, electric scooter, electric moped, car or ride-share.”

Transit launches subscription-based Royale by Mischa Wanek-Libman, Mass Transit
“Transit Royale will be available in cities where the company does not have a partnership with the local transit agency. The $24.99 per year or $4.99 per month subscription will give users access to full schedules and maps for transit lines that are farther away and subscribers will see extra features and customization options such as special app themes and icons inspired by transit systems around the world, a custom avatar and nickname. However, core features of Transit’s app including next departures, trip planning, mobile ticketing and multimodal integrations will remain free for all users.” Transit App also has its own blog post on the new subscription option.

Avoid crowded public transportation with Google Maps’ new features. Here’s how by Dashia Starr, CNET
“Google Maps is adding transit crowd predictions covering 10,000 transit systems in 100 countries”

Google Maps now shows Bird e-bike and scooter rentals, too by D. Wollman, Engadget
“The feature, available on both Google Maps’ iOS and Android apps, will ultimately still send the rider to the Bird app if they decide to go ahead and rent a vehicle.  All told, this sounds very similar to the announcement Spin made yesterday, including the fact that you need to open a separate app to actually pay for and unlock the rental. Both will also show you the estimated battery range.”


Older Driver Experiences with Autonomous Vehicle Technology by Dr. Sherrilene Classe, et al, Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development, and Education Center
“This study provides valuable contributions to the current body of knowledge regarding the determinants of older adult AV technology acceptance practices.”

What’s the Fairest Way to Deploy Electric Buses? Ask This Open-Source Map by Cinnamon Janzer, Next City
“University of Utah researcher and associate professor Xiaoyue Cathy Liu, in cooperation with the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), recently developed an open source, web-based modeling tool that lets urban, city, and transportation planners and more across the country explore various scenarios for deploying electric buses. The model is open-source, but because every transit agency’s data is different, it’s not as simple as plug-and-play. Liu is in the process of creating a step-by-step guidebook to show, in detail, how to collect the right data and how to run the model, which is all open source and online. ‘We’ll be developing an online visualization tool that uses the UTA network as an example,” she explains. “It will be open source as well. Any agency can use the code and input their data.'”

Electric robotaxis may not be the climate solution we were led to believe by Andrew J. Hawkins, Verge
A new study led by Ashley Nunes, a fellow at the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, concluded that fleets of electric autonomous taxis could ‘dramatically increase energy consumption and emissions that contribute to climate change — not reduce them.’
by studying data from San Francisco, Nunes’ team found that ‘ubiquitous electric robocabs might erase those energy savings’ by increasing demand for rides while also decreasing ride-pooling or carpooling, largely due to their public perception as easy, cheap, and eco-friendly. In other words, more people would be using these cars to get around who might not have otherwise have done so, thanks to their availability.”

Other Noteworthy Mobility Technology News

Opinion: Biden must act to get racism out of automated decision-making by ReNika Moore, The Washington Post
“when AI systems are developed in ways that do not adequately take into account existing racism, sexism and other inequities, built-in algorithmic bias can undermine predictive decisions and result in invisible but very real discrimination. As these systems are deployed, they exacerbate existing disparities and create new roadblocks for already-marginalized groups.”


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