By Hank Walshak
Uber exemplifies the vehicle connectivity – hands-free and autonomous driving – that’s revolutionizing personal mobility as profoundly as the invention of the automobile itself nearly 130 years ago. When equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-everything technologies, cars, light trucks and commercial vehicles are capable of reducing energy consumption, pollution and crashes.
Ultimately, self-driving Ubers will drive completely autonomously, but not just yet. When you ride in an SDU today, you’ll find an operator behind the wheel and another in the right-front seat who monitors the performance of the SDU and feeds his or her observations to engineers at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), with locations in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and now Toronto.
During your ride, the car will switch between self-driving and manual modes. When the car is in manual mode, the vehicle operator controls all car behavior, whereas in self-driving mode, the operators simply observe the technology to assure the safety of those inside and around the SDU. The transition between the two modes happens smoothly, often leaving the rider wondering when the vehicle operator is driving the car and when the vehicle is driving itself.
Making PGH Home
Uber arrived in Pittsburgh in September 2015. “The reasons for the company’s coming here were several,” said Shari Shapiro, Senior Manager, Public Affairs, Pennsylvania and Delaware, “to test its self-driving cars equipped with radar and LiDAR on a hilly terrain where the climate can range from pleasant to unpredictable.”
Shapiro also emphasized that Uber management was also attracted to Pittsburgh’s interest in new and emerging technologies, as evidenced by developments at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University in areas like adaptive traffic-light signalization and assistive robots for blind travelers.
Uber has begun to change the way we get around – from people-driven cars to self-driving cars – in Pittsburgh. At the same time, the company is proving itself a good neighbor.
Since coming here, Uber has created more than 500 jobs in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, including jobs for high-tech engineers, vehicle operators and security and maintenance staff. The company has also invested more than $100 million in its local operations. And whereas many other businesses seek tax credits or aim to tap into industrial development funds, Uber’s ATG started in Pennsylvania entirely without state or local taxpayer funding.
Uber has reached out to the Pittsburgh community. The company donated $20,000 worth of free rides to water distribution stations when some areas of Pittsburgh were without clean drinking water. Uber is an ongoing supporter of Bike Pittsburgh and a primary sponsor of Open Streets Pittsburgh, launched at the end of May this year.
When the May Open Streets took place, Pittsburgh shut down 3 miles of road to let Pittsburghers experience what a car-free environment is like and to get walking, biking and skating with neighbors. During the event, residents experienced what Pittsburgh could be like with reduced congestion and when space normally used for parking is instead used for community activities. Experiences like these could become commonplace. One of the goals of self-driving vehicles is to reduce congestion, enabling real estate currently used for parking to be used for parks.
In a spirit of cooperation, Uber maintains ongoing partnerships with organizations like the Pittsburgh Technology Council, the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and Bike Pittsburgh. The company sponsored and hosted K-through-12 educators and students for a STEM summit at the Advanced Technologies Group. Pittsburgh’s police and fire departments use the ATG’s test track for training.
Emerging technologies installed in automated vehicles like self-driving Ubers and those used by auto manufacturers and automotive engineers are outpacing regulation and standardization across the auto industry. The federal government and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have yet to issue regulations covering automated vehicles.
To help fill this void, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy (DOT_AV_Policy.pdf). This policy offers guidance relative to highly automated vehicles (HAVs) and vehicles that can take full control of the driving task in some circumstances. Portions of the policy also apply to lower levels of automation, including some of the driver-assistance systems already being used by automakers.
“We’re now standardizing as much as possible at a time when technology developments in the auto industry are moving so rapidly that we’re measuring these developments in months instead of years,” said Jack Pokrzywa, Director of Ground Vehicle Standards for SAE International.
The automotive industry and producers of self-driving technology, like Uber, now work in a regulation-free environment and are struggling to know what to expect from federal and state regulators.
Enter SAE International. Ever since its start in 1905, this association has been the backbone of standardizing and publishing nomenclature for traditional automotive engineering developments. But in the last seven years, SAE has focused increasingly on standardizing various software-driven components and systems incorporated into self-driving cars.
This standardization eliminates confusion and is useful across many different disciplines, such as engineering, legal and media. And standardization educates a wider community by clarifying for each automated level what role, if any, drivers have in performing the dynamic driving task while a driving automation system is engaged.
Founded in 1905 as the Society of Automotive Engineers, this association has kept pace with the rapid development of new technologies and now has more than 500 technical committees whose work revolves around creating new standards.
The main focus of SAE International centers on developing information for automotive engineers, and has produced 100,000 research papers and publishes 30 to 40 books a year. Relative to self-driving cars, the association has standardized a terminology for six levels of autonomy, ranging from no automation to full automation (see sidebar). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has adopted this standardization.
“We’re now standardizing as much as possible at a time when technology developments in the auto industry are moving so rapidly that we’re measuring these developments in months instead of years,” said Jack Pokrzywa, Director of Ground Vehicle Standards for SAE International. “In fact,” he added, “automotive engineers now have to work in sync with software innovations coming out of companies in Silicon Valley that are included in auto manufacturing.”
When we think about self-driving cars, it’s helpful to consider them from the broader perspectives of safety and connectivity, or how we transport people and goods. It’s been estimated that 30,000 individuals die each year in the United States because of auto accidents owing to driver error, and 1,200 auto-related fatalities occur in Pennsylvania. It doesn’t take a large stretch of imagination to envision that self-driving cars would help to eliminate these fatalities.
In another vein, connectivity – the way we transport people and goods – is changing. “Connectivity has enormous impact on the quality of life of people with disabilities who can’t drive,” said Frank Menchaca, Chief Product Officer at SAE International. “Arranging for an automated car,” he emphasized, “eliminates the need for people with disabilities having to depend on a driver.” Menchaca stressed that connectivity is having a tremendous impact on the way we think about the design of cities, the effects on the environment and on the way we design transportation systems.
CyberSecurity on the Road
One issue looms large as we herald the advent of autonomous cars: maintaining cyber-security, even in traditional cars. This matter was publicized in 2015, when two hackers took remote control of a Jeep Cherokee and cut its transmission on the highway as part of a research initiative. This incident prompted Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles.
One of the central challenges in vehicle cyber-security concerns the various electrical components in a car (known as electronic control units, or ECUs) that are connected via an internal network. If hackers manage to access a vulnerable peripheral ECU – for instance, a car’s Bluetooth or infotainment system – from there they may be able to take control of safety-critical ECUs, like the brakes or engine, and wreak havoc.
Cars today have up to 100 ECUs and more than 100 million lines of code – a massive attack surface. Further complicating matters, auto manufacturers source ECUs from many different suppliers, meaning that no one player is in control of, or even familiar with, all of a vehicle’s source code.
The threat of automotive cyberattacks will only loom larger as society transitions to autonomous vehicles. But even before autonomous vehicles become widespread, car hacking is already a real danger. In 2014, more than half of the vehicles sold in the United States were connected, meaning that they could be vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Developments in the autonomous vehicle industry are happening at such a fast pace that it’s difficult to remember how the autonomous vehicle business got started. The push began in 2004, not from a commercial preoccupation, but a military one. Back then, Congress authorized the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known in the trade as DARPA, the research organization of the Department of Defense, to award cash prizes to prompt the development of technologies to create the first fully autonomous ground vehicles that could finish an off-road course within a set time limit.
Self Driving Simulation
And here we are today with the heady competition and unparalleled technological advances that make self-driving cars go. Development has been such that Elon Musk, the founder, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and Tesla, plans to have a fully autonomous vehicle, with no human driver, make it over highways from Los Angeles to New York sometime next year.
In the midst of all these advances, just what makes it possible for producers of self-driven cars to proceed so rapidly? For this, many turn to ANSYS, the world leader in engineering simulation. “We provide vehicle engineering solutions, including crucial, physics-based automotive simulation,” said Sandeep Sovani, Ph.D., Director, Global Automotive Industry for ANSYS, adding, “This enables engineers to rapidly automate and debug automated designs.”
“The president of Toyota Motor Corporation,” Sovani said “has made it known that 8.8 billion miles of testing and simulation will be required for making an autonomous vehicle. If we do the math, without simulation, testing like this for 8.8 billion miles would take more than 10,000 years. In contrast, Google’s autonomous vehicles have completed just about 2.4 million miles.”
For now, Pittsburgh residents can continue their love affair with self-driving cars and rest assured that Uber will continue to meet their mobility and connectivity needs well into the future.