From self-driving trucks to research out of local universities, Pittsburgh has no shortage of autonomous vehicle tech innovation. That work is led by companies that, if they have it their way, would see the Steel City be as known for cars without drivers as it is for bridges and sports.
While the future these companies are envisioning is still a little ways off — we do love our Steelers — that doesn’t mean entities specializing in autonomous vehicles aren’t making plenty of moves forward where they can under existing standards.
From a bill in the house that would give highly autonomous vehicle companies more freedom in how they operate in Pennsylvania to a national tech leader tapping a local one for a partnership, it’s been a busy month for this part of the Pittsburgh tech sector. Read all about it below.
Harrisburg weighs HAVs legislation
Last week in Harrisburg, House Bill 2398 made it through the Senate Transportation Committee vote. Should it pass, it’d alter the Commonwealth’s rule requiring that a licensed human driver be present inside highly automated vehicles, or HAVs, wherever testing is taking place.
For years, the pros and cons of HAVs have been being weighed by technologists who find them a source of endless possibilities as well as lawmakers and residents who are wary of the safety concerns, specifically the possibility accidents caused by technical errors. Gov. Tom Wolf stated this past spring that he’d sign such legislation into law, if it progressed. Still, not everyone’s sold.
Some critics aren’t opposed to HAVs entirely — just some of the things they worry the bill is excluding. Senate Transportation Minority Chairman Marty Flynn, said he understands that HAVs will be a part of life in the future, but his issue is that as written, HB 2398 doesn’t take workers into consideration by promising them jobs maintaining and operating HAVs down the road.
“This bill does not guarantee Pennsylvania workers a seat at the table,” Flynn said according to Capitolwire.com’s reporting.
For other interested parties, however, an era where state laws allow driverless cars to operate more freely can’t come fast enough. This past spring at an autonomous vehicle panel hosted by the Pittsburgh Robotics Network, panelists argued that requirements mandating a person be present in HAVs while testing was happening unintentionally hindered companies from truly being able to understand how safely self-driving cars could operate.
“It’s kind of strange,” said Peter Rander, Argo AI’s cofounder and president, at the April panel. “Aren’t we supposed to be the place that’s supposed to be this hub of self-driving technology?”
Uber picked Motional and Lyft picked Argo AI for new partnerships
Uber has selected Motional, a Boston-based driverless technology company with a Pittsburgh presence in Hazelwood Green, for a 10-year deal to launch its autonomous deliveries service. The plan, which a press release notes is set to begin in 2023, is for the service to do everything the company’s UberEats service does — minus the driver, thanks to Motional’s next-generation autonomous vehicles.
Uber’s choice is significant because one might have assumed the Strip District-based AV company Aurora would be the natural choice for such a venture. Why? The now-public Aurora acquired Uber’s self-driving unit about two years ago, and in 2021 Uber chose to use Aurora to test out autonomous trucking on the Uber Freight platform. Yet, Uber decided to drive in a different direction.
“We’re excited to partner with Motional to test a new kind of delivery for Uber Eats consumers in 2022,” said Sarfraz Maredia, VP and head of Uber Eats in the US and Canada, in a release. “Our consumers and merchant partners have come to expect convenience, reliability and innovation from Uber, and this collaboration represents a huge opportunity to meet — and exceed — those expectations.”
This comes after Argo AI ended September with its own announcement of a partnership with ridesharing service Lyft, which allows its app’s users to order cars powered by Argo’s self-driving technology in Austin. In that case, customers curious about being chauffeured in a self-driving car would still have two safety operators along for the ride.
Seegrid partners with Koop Automation Systems
The companies said in a statement that this move will give the Michigan-based automation systems designer access to Seegrid’s autonomous mobile robots and enterprise software solutions. Mike Slager, Koops’ director of business development, said the partnership will help the companies to “deliver on our mutual commitment of providing impactful solutions and services to support manufacturers as they build resiliency and expand.”
“We have seen the need for Seegrid’s products first hand in many of our applications and are looking forward to integrating this technology into our state-of-the-art automation solutions,” Slager said in the announcement.
Did we miss anything? Any thoughts to share about a future filled with self-driving cars? Hit us up any time: firstname.lastname@example.org.Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.