U.S. Senate Democrats urge Buttigieg to develop autonomous vehicle rules

By David Shepardson, Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A group of 12 U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday urged Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to develop a comprehensive federal framework for autonomous vehicles, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

“We lag behind in shaping a regulatory framework that will foster this innovation while simultaneously protecting and encouraging all of the important benefits we believe autonomous vehicles are capable of delivering,” wrote the senators, led by Gary Peters, who chairs a Senate Commerce subcommittee on surface transportation. “Autonomous vehicles hold great promise to deliver significant benefits for all Americans – but only if the federal government puts the necessary policies in place to achieve these benefits.”

The letter cited efforts by competitors, particularly China, who “have significantly invested in autonomous and connected vehicle technologies.” It asks Buttigieg to detail what “specific actions” the department is “considering in the near term regarding autonomous vehicles.”

A spokesperson for Buttigieg, who will testify on May 3 before the Senate Commerce committee, did not immediately comment.

The letter said the “significant technical and economic challenges at hand” in respect to autonomous vehicles should spur the federal government to address the issue now.

In February, General Motors Co and its self-driving technology unit Cruise petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for permission to build and deploy a self-driving vehicle without human controls like steering wheels or brake pedals. The petition is pending.

The Democratic senators’ letter asks how the department will “evaluate applications from manufacturers” and whether it is providing “clarity about the timeline and procedures for the review process.”

Congress has been stymied for more than five years over legislation to ease regulations that would allow for the deployment of thousands of autonomous vehicles.

Unions have expressed concerns about legislative efforts and Republicans have blamed organized labor and plaintiff attorneys for blocking legislation.

The Democratic senators said autonomous vehicles have the potential to reduce traffic deaths, expand mobility access to the disabled and reduce the need for parking in congested cities.

A consortium to create the next-generation of innovation and talent for the electric vehicle industry

By ClemsonNews

The unprecedented need to develop a workforce that can build and service electric and autonomous vehicles and develop the cybersecurity to protect them is the driving force behind a new consortium based in South Carolina.

The consortium, named “Collaborative Research: REVVED,” short for Revolutionizing Electric Vehicle Education, is receiving $2.83 million from the National Science Foundation to fund the project.

Trident Technical College is working in partnership with Greenville Technical College, Spartanburg Community College and Clemson University as part of the consortium. Several workforce development centers and industry partners are also involved.

The consortium will conduct evidence-based research studies to investigate integration of virtual and augmented reality systems to support electric vehicle manufacturing and education. The digital learning tools will be based on industry needs and be available at EducateWorkforce.com.

One of the main goals is to strengthen learning and retention among students from rural areas, veterans and students who are from groups underrepresented in the workforce. Digital learning systems are especially attractive for students who are non-traditional and underrepresented in the workforce, researchers said.

Several consortium members have collaborated in the past on workforce education initiatives, and they expect to strengthen their partnerships through the consortium.

Industry partners involved are BMW, Michelin, Bosch, Daimler, Proterra and Volvo.

National Science Foundation consortia members are: Indian River Community College, the National Cybersecurity Training & Education Center, the National Center for Autonomous Technologies, the Center for Advanced Automotive Technology, the Northwest Engineering Vehicle Technology Exchange, the South Carolina Technical College System, Upstate Alliance and the South Carolina Manufacturing Partnership Extension.

Mary Thornley, president of Trident Technical College, said REVVED addresses a critical need in South Carolina and across the country.

“Our country has an unprecedented need, the need for a new generation of talent to respond to international competition for an automotive workforce with up-to-date skill sets required for the manufacturing and servicing of electric and autonomous vehicles,” Thornley said. “We are excited to work with strong partners to create that talent to ensure state and national competitiveness.”

Mary Thornley
President, Trident Technical College

Jim Clements, president of Clemson University, said the grant will provide important support to the automotive workforce.

“We are excited to be part of this collaboration to create the next generation of innovation and talent for the electric vehicle industry. Clemson has a rich history of working with technical colleges and industry. It’s in our DNA. These efforts make a difference in achieving high-quality outcomes for 21st-century challenges and opportunities.”

Tim Hardee, president of the state Technical College System, said he supports the collaboration.

“This is a great example of how Clemson University, an R1 research institution, partners with technical colleges and industry to support workforce preparedness for the betterment of all South Carolina,” he said.

Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College, said the grant provides new opportunities to ensure the future workforce is equipped with relevant skills, as the industry transitions from the internal-combustion engine to electric vehicles.

“The Greenville Technical College team comes to this project with extensive experience in curriculum design, implementation of online courses and recruitment of underserved and underrepresented students,” Miller said. “Deepening our collaboration with fellow technical colleges across the state and CA2VES will enable even greater impact.”

Michael Mikota, president of Spartanburg Community College, said that consultation with industry will be crucial to REVVED.

“Our team will utilize our unique connections with industry leaders to provide guidance for the creation of educational modules, provide feedback on effectiveness, and ensure we are creating  the most competitive workforce,” Mikota said. “The talent, experience and passion in this consortium uniquely position us for success.”

The consortium faculty team consists of Robert Elliott, the dean of manufacturing and maintenance, and Walter Varella, the coordinator of the Automotive Technology Program at Trident Technical College; Trent Hulehan, the department head of the Automotive Technology Program at Greenville Technical College; Joe Santaniello, the academic program director of computer and engineering technology at Spartanburg Community College; and Kapil Chalil Madathil, the Wilfred P. Tiencken Associate Professor of Industrial and Civil Engineering. The Clemson University Center for Workforce Development is leading the initiative within Clemson University.

Technology helps drive trucking industry forward

By Markie Martin, Cassie Buchman, and Nichole Berlie, NewsNation

(NewsNation) —From new devices tracking drivers’ hours on the road to nicer truck stops, technology is changing the way the trucking industry looks.

“It’s so cliche to say the future is here, but it is,” Mike Soricelli, with fleet management company EROAD, said.

A tool called an electronic logging device eliminates the need for a traditional CB radio that truckers usually use. Also called an ELD, it is a removable tablet that tracks how long the driver works, tells them when to take breaks and helps them message each other, helping companies manage maintenance and providing drivers with route optimization.

Many electronic logging devices these days are integrated with cameras, not just outward-facing but inside the cab as well. These cameras watch and record drivers’ actions, like cellphone use, accidents and high-speed turns.

Back in 2017, the government mandated that all truckers have electronic logging devices with them.

Not all changes that have been made in recent years are inside the truck. Tractors themselves are also at a crossroads, with some companies testing renewable natural alternatives to use for fuel.

Travel Centers of America, one of the nation’s largest truckstop chains, is well-positioned to handle the slow but almost certain switch to alternative fuels, CEO Jon Pertchick said.

“We can have fossil and nonfossil fuels coexisting for the next decade or more,” Pertchik said.

Travel Centers of America is also spending millions of dollars refreshing its sites, turning them from a traditional truck stop into a lounge with various amenities. These include pool tables, state-of-the-art laundry facilities and healthy food choices.

“Big fleets all now realize the importance of taking care of their drivers and driver wellness as a part of that,” Pertchik said.

While more and more companies try to push the industry into the 21st century, many truckers fear certain advancements, like autonomous driving tech, will make them irrelevant.

Wiley Deck is vice president of government affairs and public policy at Plus (formerly Plus.ai) — a leading provider of self-driving truck technology — and says that’s not necessarily the case.

“Thats a fear people really shouldn’t have” Deck tells “Rush Hour” Friday.

Speaking to the shortage of truck drivers, Deck explains how one of the most difficult tasks fleets have is trying to encourage folks to apply to become a long-haul truckers because of the demanding hours and time away from home.

“That’s why companies like Plus are trying to fill that gap where we’re seeing that shortage of drivers,” said Deck.

Deck goes on to say that these trucks can even create jobs, citing studies from the Department of Labor which say if you’re in training in the trucking industry now as a driver, you’ll be able to retire as a driver.

“This this is more of an evolution of the technology and not a revolution,” Deck says. “As these trucks get on the road and get rid of those inefficiencies that are in the system now. You’re going to see increased easier routes that gets people into the industry,” he continued.

Daimler’s Martin Daum: Autonomous Trucks Will Benefit Industry Without Threatening Jobs

By Seth Clevenger, Transport Topics

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As autonomous trucks gradually move closer to commercialization, Daimler Truck CEO Martin Daum sees this technology delivering a range of benefits for fleet customers and for society at large.

During an April 12 briefing with journalists and analysts, Daum said autonomous trucks will improve highway safety, counter the trucking industry’s driver shortage, boost equipment utilization and help meet rising freight demand.

These highly automated vehicles will be able to operate more safely and more precisely than any human driver, he said, in large part because the autonomous driving system never becomes sleepy or distracted and always follows the rules of the road.

“The virtual driver is the perfect driver, and it’s the perfect driver all the time,” Daum said. “This will ultimately make our travel so much safer.”

Before the end of this decade, the manufacturer intends to introduce SAE Level 4 trucks capable of operating autonomously on specific routes and within certain parameters without a driver.

Nonetheless, Daum does not see this technology posing a threat to driver jobs.

Rather than attempting to automate all freight lanes, Daimler Truck and its Torc Robotics subsidiary are focusing their efforts on certain stretches of highway that are best suited to autonomous operation.

READ MORE: Torc Demonstrates Progress on Road to Autonomous Trucking

“If everything goes perfectly well, we might put 6% of the U.S. freight in autonomous vehicles,” Daum said. “That means 94% of the freight still needs drivers to be delivered.”

By that time, freight volumes likely will have expanded faster than autonomous truck deployment, meaning the industry will continue to need more drivers, not fewer.

“Therefore, for me, this is not a threat for drivers. This will put nobody in unemployment,” Daum said. “This is absolutely necessary, ultimately, to keep our economy going.”

To ease the introduction of Level 4 trucks, Daimler and Torc are targeting hub-to-hub freight routes that mainly involve driving on stretches of open highway rather than navigating more complex traffic environments in urban areas.

This deployment model breaks a longhaul shipment into three segments. In the long middle-mile section, autonomous trucks would haul trailers on interstate routes between designated logistics hubs situated along highways. Manually driven trucks would continue to handle the first and final legs of the shipment’s journey — from the initial pickup to the first hub and from the second hub to final delivery.

“This is meaningful. This addresses a big need of the industry,” said Peter Vaughan Schmidt, head of Daimler Truck’s Autonomous Technology Group.

To realize this vision, Daimler Truck is pursuing a “dual-track strategy” by collaborating with two autonomous driving developers.

In addition to its work with Torc, which it acquired in 2019, Daimler Truck also established a separate self-driving truck partnership with Waymo, a unit of Google-parent Alphabet Inc., in 2020.

The truck maker sees the United States as the ideal market to deploy this technology first, due to factors such as long stretches of highway, rising freight demand and a favorable regulatory environment.

“We already have in the U.S. — especially in the West — fairly strong acceptance that the technology is going to occur,” said John O’Leary, CEO of Daimler Truck North America.

Some state governments have been changing their rules to clear the way for developers to test and eventually deploy autonomous vehicles.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re here in New Mexico and why we also go down to Texas,” O’Leary said.

Over time, the manufacturer hopes to see a consistent national regulatory framework emerge for autonomous trucking.

“We really don’t want to see some kind of a patchwork develop,” O’Leary said.

Automated trucks and buses projected to reach 1.2 million by 2032

By Alan Adler, FreightWaves

The number of automated trucks and buses is expected to grow from practically zero this year to 1.2 million by 2032, according to new market analysis by Guidehouse Insights.

The overall market share is projected to reach just over 19% by 2032. China will lead the way with a 38.5% share. North America and Europe are expected to reach 26% and 29% shares, respectively, according to the report authored by Sam Abuelsamid, a Guidehouse principal analyst.

The hockey-stick pattern of automated trucks — a surge in adoption after a period of relative stability — is due to several factors. Chief among them is the aging of the current long-haul driver pool and the scant interest in over-the-road driving jobs by young people. The American Trucking Associations predicts a shortage of as many as 200,000 drivers for long-haul jobs in the next decade.

Nearly 35% of tractor trucks are expected to be automated trucks in North America by 2032, not far behind the 40% in China, Abuelsamid wrote. Globally, automated tractors are projected to account for 21% of deployments with 368,000 units

‘Fully committed’ to automated trucks

Daimler Truck, which is developing autonomous versions of its Class 8 flagship Freightliner Cascadia with independent subsidiary Torc Robotics and with Google-backed Waymo Via, is convinced that driverless trucks are part of the industry’s future.

“We are fully committed to autonomous trucking as it can benefit everyone,” Martin Daum, Daimler Truck chairman of the board of management, said in a press release. “It will help society cope with the growing volume of freight, particularly in times of severe driver shortages.”

For long-haul, the operational model is expected to be hub to hub with depots located near highway interchanges. At the depots, trailers would be transferred to human-driven daycabs for the foreseeable future. Torc and Embark Trucks are two autonomous trucking developers planning for hub-to-hub operations.

Others, including TuSimple, envision fully autonomous trucks that could operate on surface roads to the depot without human drivers on board.

“The potential to reduce or eliminate the cost of drivers and overcome the shortage is widely appealing to shippers,” Abuelsamid said. “Long-haul trucking is also an [operational design domain] that has potential to work well with early deployments.”

Last-mile autonomy

Autonomous trucks also have a role in the last-mile delivery and distribution sector where loads would be sorted and shifted to smaller goods delivery vans for local operations.

“Specially designed automated vans, like the Udelv Transporter, have significant opportunities for last-mile deliveries, as do more traditional vans that may combine ADS with a delivery person on board who can either take packages to the door or load up drones while the van drives,” Abuelsamid said.

Daryl Adams, CEO of the Shyft Group, told FreightWaves he isn’t sure if 2032 is the right year. Predictions that battery-electric delivery vans would gain traction in the 2030s and 2040s is proving to be off by a decade. The North American Council for Freight Efficiency reported Tuesday that 100% of vans and step vans could be electric today.

“All these technologies are coming much faster, so we want to be sure we stay ahead of them,” Adams said, revealing that Shyft is working on an autonomous pilot that could be in operation by the end of the year. He declined to provide the name of Shyft’s partner or other details because of nondisclosure agreements.

Goods delivery vans are projected to reach global volumes of more than 235,000, or about one in five, by the end of the forecast period, with North America, Europe, China, and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in Asia-Pacific topping 20% market shares, Guidehouse reported.

FedEx CEO reveals summertime push on autonomous trucks

By Steve Hallo, Property Casualty 360

Global shipping giant FedEx Corp. is going to be making a push into autonomous trucks starting this coming June, Frederick W. Smith, the company’s founder, CEO and chairman, said during a CNBC interview.

The company will initially explore using autonomous trucks to move freight over highways, according to Smith, who explained drivers would still be used in cities where they are better suited for pickups and deliveries.

Smith did note the company is still a “long way down the road,” but he is confident autonomous trucks will be here one day.

Not FedEx’s first foray into autonomous tech

While FedEx is building up to autonomous trucks, the company is already testing an autonomous drone program that handles “middle-mile” logistics operations, moving shipments between sortation locations,” according to a company press release.

Further tipping the company’s hand concerning its position on this bleeding-edge technology, Joe Stephens, senior vice president, global planning, engineering and technology, FedEx Express, said in the release: “FedEx was built on innovation and we are always looking toward new technologies to help enhance the logistics industry through improved safety, efficiency and customer service.”

Autonomous trucks & insurance

Swiss Re has indicated that due to the cost of autonomous vehicles (AV), it is most likely that their introduction into society will be through initiatives such as FedEx’s program and fleet services with for-hire AVs.

As it stands, more than 26 states have some form of legislation related to the use of autonomous trucks for commercial purposes, according to Swiss Re.

Since they are less complex than city driving, long-haul routes are more suitable for early AV projects.

During the early days, when human drivers will be growing accustomed to driverless vehicles, more accidents are likely to occur, according to Marsh McLennan. However, driverless technology is expected to eventually reduce the number of crashes as well as total liability costs.

As AVs become more common, Marsh McLennan anticipates auto liability will shift. With drivers assuming less responsibility for road safety, manufacturers, component suppliers and tech companies involved in the building of autonomous trucks (including the software that controls them) will carry more risk.

Marsh McLennan also noted insurance will need to change to offer more products related to liability coverage or hybrid coverage.

Additionally, insurance is going to play a critical role in either facilitating or deterring the commercialization of AVs, according to Koop Technologies, an insurtech that specializes in autonomous vehicles and automation risks.

Autonomous Vehicles Check the Boxes of DOT’s Innovation Principles

By Ariel Wolf, Ground Truth Autonomy

Earlier this year Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg unveiled a set of innovation principles for the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) approach to new technologies. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) fit squarely within these goals and belong on DOT’s agenda to improve safety, equity, and the environment for Americans.

Despite fewer vehicles on the road during the pandemic, traffic fatalities have surged. An estimated 31,720 people died in the first nine months of last year — the highest number in 15 years and the largest year-over-year percentage increase since 1975. Speeding, reckless behavior, and alcohol-impaired driving are cited as some of the leading causes for the deaths of drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users.

We cannot be desensitized to the crisis on our roads. Unlike human drivers, AVs don’t get distracted, don’t speed, and don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs — three conditions attributed to thousands of lives lost on U.S. roads each year. The automotive industry has a long tradition of innovation: seat belts, anti-lock brakes, airbags, backup cameras, and electronic stability control. AV technology is just the latest advancement in automotive innovation.

On top of the technology’s significant potential safety benefits, AVs offer opportunities to fulfill all the aims of Secretary Buttigieg’s innovation principles:

Serve key policy priorities, such as creating economic opportunity, enabling equitable access to transportation, and addressing climate change. With policymakers’ support, AVs are poised to increase equity and may improve environmental quality by enabling consumers to travel without the prerequisite of a personally owned vehicle. In addition, 25.5 million Americans have travel-limiting disabilities like blindness, epilepsy, and spinal cord injuries. AVs offer a singular opportunity to give the disability community more independence, making it easier for them to get to school, work and have fun with friends and family.

While creating new transportation options for disadvantaged communities, AVs may also present opportunities to reduce emissions. Many companies are already using electric vehicles (EVs) for their AV fleets, proactively planning for the use of shared, electric AV fleets to reduce the number of personal vehicle trips and potentially reduce congestion with smoother driving and more efficient routing. In fact, the University of California San Diego found that autonomous heavy-duty trucks can reduce fuel consumption by at least 10 percent.

Support workers. The AV industry is already creating thousands of well-paid, full-time jobs, available to individuals with a wide range of education and skill levels, many of which do not require a college degree. AVs may not need a driver behind the wheel, but the industry still needs service technicians, remote assistance operators, customer support, mapping data collection specialists, fleet operators, delivery packers, engineers, software developers and more. The Pittsburgh region, for example, has become a hub for AV development with over 6,300 jobs. In the trucking industry, autonomous long-haul trucks could work hand-in-hand with truck drivers, creating up to 35,100 jobs and raising workers’ wages across the economy without mass layoffs.

Foster U.S. competitiveness through reliable and adaptive transportation systems and infrastructure. Foreign countries are jockeying to overtake America’s leadership on AVs. Germany, Singapore, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and other countries have or are laying out legal frameworks and investing millions into AV development. Meanwhile China has zeroed in on AVs as a top government-backed priority, with AV taxis operating in Shenzhen and Beijing. The U.S. needs to cement its AV leadership status to secure the technology’s potential safety, economic, and societal benefits.

Allow for experimentation and learn from setbacks. Like any innovation, AVs are the product of rigorous simulated and real-world testing. Companies are thinking holistically and comprehensively about how to ensure technology is not only safe, but safer than human driving. Critical considerations include other road users, passenger experience, and local rules of the road.

Provide opportunities for collaboration among the public, private, and academic sectors. To deliver the potential benefits of AVs, companies are actively pursuing partnerships with universities, NGOs, and businesses. Autonomous delivery pilots are underway with Walmart and Kroger to eliminate food deserts. The University of Michigan Ford Center for Autonomous Vehicles and Carnegie Mellon University Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research exemplify the role of leading academic institutions. And De Anza College and Pima Community College offer two examples of job certification programs. The industry also works collaboratively with local, state, and federal policymakers to see the technology firsthand and to understand its positive impact.

Favor flexible policies that can adapt as technology evolves. For AVs to flourish, the United States needs a national framework that supports testing and deployment. This will help facilitate further advancements in the technology, while ensuring its potential benefits are realized more widely across the country. The current flexible approach allows the industry to innovate in pursuit of the safest technology, regularly releasing voluntary safety reports and complying with all state and federal reporting regimes to share detailed information about how the technology works.

Without a doubt, AVs check the boxes of the innovation principles. Concerted action to facilitate AV testing and deployment should be part of DOT and NHTSA’s comprehensive safe systems approach, in addition to other necessary steps like better road design, reduced speeds, and drunk-driving prevention systems. With the right partnerships, considerations, and policy support, AVs could deliver vital safety, equity, economic and environmental benefits. We urge DOT, NHTSA, and other policymakers to act in support of AV technology in order to accomplish our shared objectives.

Ariel Wolf is general counsel for the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association.