Locomation to Begin Runs With Oklahoma Carrier

By Roger Gilroy, Transport Topics

Autonomous truck developer Locomation announced an eight-year agreement with El Reno, Okla.-based Stevens Trucking Co. to provide the carrier with its human-guided Level 2 autonomous relay convoy (ARC) turnkey system.

Stevens becomes the fourth carrier to commit to the technology, joining Wilson Logistics, PGT Trucking and Christenson Transportation.

A soft launch for all four is scheduled this year, and commercial deployment in 2024, with decisions made then about how many trucks and from whom, Locomation reported.

Stevens hauls truckload freight and has an oil field division. It has 300 tractors and 1,500 trailers.

“My goal is that Stevens Trucking will be the first to market in our lanes with an autonomous truck service with Locomation,” owner Kenney Stevens said during a Zoom call Locomation arranged. “So we knew we needed to lock in our place at the front of the line when AV trucks start to deploy in order to be fully prepared with the freight needed to make this model work day in and day out. The bottom line for us is that the economics are profound.”

Using Locomation’s proprietary planning and optimization system, Stevens will restructure its operation using a relay model to eventually run its ARC trucks 20-plus hours per day in six lane segments, Pittsburgh-based Locomation reported.

Stevens forecast it will double its market share on these lanes, reduce empty miles by up to 50%, and improve fuel efficiency by more than 20%, including substantial reduction in GHG emissions for their shipper customers looking to increase their sustainability profile.

“Like we discovered with the analysis [Locomation provided] roughly 18% of all tonnage flows on roadways within a 500-mile stretch of Oklahoma City, which is pretty incredible,” said Cole Stevens, vice president of sales, “especially with our geographic location. We think the sky’s the limit with this partnership.”

Stevens eventually intends to run 500 trucks in its ARC program, and will keep some others as traditional trucks. “But the cream of the crop is who is going to be operating these [L2 trucks],” Kenney Stevens said.

Locomation noted its entire model is centered around tapping into the experience and unique capabilities of the human driver. “So we are not looking to replace the drivers. We are looking to augment and complement the drivers,” said Çetin Meriçli, the technology company’s co-founder and CEO. “We are looking to expand existing capabilities and not displace people.”

With ARC, there are two trucks with L2 technology — that allows the automated control of steering and braking under a driver’s direct supervision — and two drivers. One is off duty in the trailing truck. The human-piloted lead truck is operating for two trucks in the technology-enabled combination, where the actions of the first are relayed to and implemented by the trailing truck. After 11 hours, the trucks and drivers trade places and on/off duty status.

Hardware and software enable the tractors to operate as part of the autonomous convoy, including sensors, cameras, radar, lidar and computing units to crunch the numbers and run the algorithms. A dedicated radio link connects the two trucks.

There are redundant safety systems, such as steering, braking and the computing systems in each truck.

“Autonomous truck operator is a new labor force,” said Glynn Spangenberg, chief commercial officer at Locomation.

“The new workforce is going to be savvy, regardless of age, and operate these machines and do it at a level far beyond what normal truck drivers do. They’ll make more money, be more efficient and have a fun time operating the system. It’s a whole different world for the drivers.”

He added: “We are looking to load this up with about 10,000 trucks total. We have [identified] 68 of these ARC segments.”

Initially, ARC will only be available as an up-fit kit to be installed on a newly built compatible base truck, Locomation reported.

Locomation, in a statement, said its revenue will be generated through “an implementation investment when the ARC-equipped trucks are shipped and a monthly Digital Driver subscription; plus value-added professional services to assist in planning, training, implementation, and ongoing organizational capabilities to ensure the clients we serve get the most out of the autonomous trucking services they deliver to their customers.”

How does Aurora benefit from Pittsburgh Technical College’s new engineer technician program?

By Sarah Huffman, Technical.ly

Autonomous vehicles are a big reason why Pittsburgh is known as a $4.3 billion robotics hub, thanks to research coming out of local universities as well as companies ranging from startup to publicly traded. That prowess requires trained expertise to keep the work going.

One of those local companies, Aurora, is making moves to grow the workforce needed to sustain the industry in Pittsburgh: The self-driving firm is partnering with Pittsburgh Technical College (PTC) for an 18-month associate’s degree program for robotics and autonomous engineering technology. The program will train students to work as technicians on autonomous vehicles and related systems.

The first class in the program will kick off in early October. A little over a year ago, the Strip District-HQ’d AV company — which went public through a SPAC deal in November — approached PTC about starting this program. Matt Blackburn, senior manager of government relations at Aurora, told Technical.ly the company’s leaders knew that as they think about the future and scaling their product, they needed to scale their workforce as well. Aurora counted 1,600 local employees as of fall 2021.

David Becker, PTC’s academic chair of trades, electronics and technology, said from the school’s standpoint, it wanted to launch this program because of the “explosion” of robotics over the last few years. And in a statement, President and CEO Dr. Alicia Harvey-Smith noted the need for service engineer technicians specifically right now. This program will allow students to enter the career in a short period of time.

“The robotics industry is prevalent across so many industries right now, from technology to healthcare and manufacturing. This program helps to propel students into all of those professions,” Harvey-Smith said.

The new robotics program is an extension of a long-running electronics program at PTC.

“The thing that makes this program unique is the fact that it’s kind of a combination of different programs,” Becker told Technical.ly. “It’s a combination between electronics and CAD — computer-aided design — and a combination with IT, information technology, and with our trades program for electricians.” That mix means students graduate with a unique set of skills.

The program is six quarters long, or 18 months. Five of those quarters involve classes related to CAD, blueprint reading, electronics, robotics, technical report writing, physics and the like. The last quarter is an internship that requires the student to complete 240 hours working in the industry.

Becker said this a good partnership because, simply, PTC trains technicians and Aurora wants technicians. The AV company’s team worked closely with PTC in building the curriculum as well as serving on advisory boards for it.

The program will be taught by PTC instructors with involvement from Aurora through seminars, events and industry days, where students will get to go out and learn about the work a certain company is doing — at Aurora and elsewhere.

“We’ll have them on our campuses,” Aurora’s Blackburn said. “They’ll see the company, they’ll see the culture, they’ll see what we do here, and I think they’ll be very interested and excited to come to Aurora, but they don’t have to work at Aurora.”

For the first session starting in the fall, PTC aims to fill all 20 spots with a diverse group of students. Aside from recent high school graduates, Becker said the program could be a good fit for someone looking for a professional change, such as a veteran looking for their next career.

Blackburn said he thinks this program is a good opportunity for people to get their foot in the door with robotics and autonomous vehicles.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to grow,” he said. “That’s the other part that we think is really cool about these associate-level programs, is that you can stack them.”

This isn’t the first education collaboration for Aurora. According to Blackburn, the company has partnerships with schools in Montana and Dallas — where Aurora also has workers — focused on the industry needs in those areas. He said what the company is doing in Pittsburgh with autonomous vehicles is unique, and this program reflects that.

“Pittsburgh has been our home from the beginning,” Blackburn said. “We’re incredibly invested in strengthening our relationship with Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh community, and our work with PTC is just another example of how we continue that relationship far into the future.”

Autonomous driving company preparing to launch Greenville site

By Ross Norton, GSA Business Report

Argo AI is ready to turn loose the horses.

The autonomy products and services company has been testing self-driving cars in urban situations in places like Miami and Austin, Texas, but is drawing closer to its plan of testing the technology’s readiness for high speeds and open roads in Greenville.

The Pittsburgh-based company in April announced plans to invest $2.6 million to establish a test facility at the International Transportation Innovation Center which is located at the S.C. Technology & Aviation Center. The facility includes a one-mile straightaway that will enable the cars to hits speeds up to 70 miles per hour.

Argo AI today displayed one of the vehicles — a Ford Escape — at the Greenville Country Club and told community leaders and news media that the company is making progress on its new test center.

Argo AI cofounder and President Pete Rander said it took the 5-year-old company “practically five years” to find the right place to test autonomous vehicles in open-road conditions.

“What Greenville offers is an amazing facility here at SC TAC and ITIC with the capacity for us to test cars at high speeds,” Rander said. “You don’t just do that on the public roadways. You need to do that on what we call a closed course, a test site that allows us to do that. … Yes, it’s taken that long to find the right location, the right place and we’re thrilled to have found the infrastructure and the support and the great welcome here.”

Safety of the technology is the company’s chief concern, he said.

“Argo is a company that wants to bring new technology to the betterment of society – to make safe driving technology safe and accessible and really useful for all,” he said.

Adding the ability to drive on highways expands that capacity of autonomous vehicles to link urban markets with high-demand locations such as airports and warehouses outside the city, the company said in a news release.

Argo plans to create at least 40 jobs as operations ramp up in Greenville, with positions ranging from fleet operations to test operations and engineers.

Read more details about the company’s plans in the Sept. 5 edition of GSA Business Report.

Pittsburgh Technical College and Aurora partner to create program in autonomous engineering

By Noelle Mateer, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Pittsburgh Technical College has partnered with Pittsburgh self-driving vehicle developer Aurora to create a program seen in few other schools: an 18-month degree in robotics and autonomous engineering designed to train Service Engineer Technicians (SET), or as they call them, the “doers” that power autonomous industries.

“It’s one of the first of its type,” said Alicia Harvey-Smith, Pittsburgh Technical College president, who said the program aims to “create the best possible technician to work not only in the autonomous vehicle space, but in other spaces that engage around electronics and robotics.”

Although PTC was already offering courses in robotics, creating a new program dedicated to autonomous technologies was Aurora’s idea.

In its initial development phases, the company has relied on employees with advanced engineering and technological backgrounds. But in order to scale, Aurora, and other autonomous vehicle companies like it, will need more SETs to work hands-on with the vehicles because self-driving cars aren’t self-maintaining — at least not yet.

“Not everyone’s going to have a Ph.D. from CMU in software engineering, right?” said Matt Blackburn, Aurora’s senior manager of government relations. “So there’s lots of different points where people can enter into this space, and this is one of them.”

The skills required to work on autonomous vehicles are different from those needed for other cars. SETs will build and repair cars, change their sensors, do the wiring, download their software, track the cars and collect their data.

“They’re the ones that pick up the wrenches and cut the wires and connect up the laptops and stuff. They’re the ones that are actually hands-on,” said Dave Becker, the program’s academic chair.

Partnering with an educational institute is a smart move for Aurora, which suffers from the public perception that autonomous technology will take away job options — not add to them.

“It comes up a lot,” Mr. Blackburn said.

But Aurora’s stance is that, in Pittsburgh anyway, the city’s status as a growing autonomous hub has added jobs, not subtracted them. A 2021 Labor Impact Study — partially funded by Aurora — from the Regional Industrial Development Corporation found that Pittsburgh’s autonomy sector has created over 6,300 jobs in the region.

“We are creating jobs that did not exist in Pittsburgh a few years ago,” Mr. Blackburn said.

Autonomous vehicles haven’t taken away many jobs yet because the technology has yet to be deployed on a mass scale. The move to create more technicians signals a forthcoming shift, as the industry begins to transition out of the theoretical and into the marketplace.

That’s why job predictions for the future, while still just hypothetical, are less rosy. If and when autonomous vehicles hit peak saturation, the U.S. could see losses of up to 300,000 professional driving jobs a year, according to a May 2017 report by Goldman Sachs.

PTC’s program starts this fall and combines several courses PTC was already offering, including its robotics courses, with a few new additions and autonomous industry days, which take students to tour workplaces (including, of course, Aurora).

Ms. Harvey-Smith and Mr. Becker noted that it’s not just self-driving companies that need technicians, pointing out that everyone from health care providers to manufacturing centers are automating. Not to mention, Aurora isn’t the only autonomous vehicle company around, and graduates could wind up at other local developers like Locomation or Argo AI.

“People tend to forget that Pittsburgh is where the AV industry really started,” Mr. Blackburn said. “We’re called the robotics capital of the country.”

For the students at Pittsburgh Technical College, the school’s robotics offerings are a way to be prepared for whatever job market shakeups increased automation could bring.

Jay Glaus, a student, said the school’s robotics offerings make him feel more prepared for an industry “in its infancy.”

“We’re in the opening credits of it, if you will,” he said.

Autonomous trucks will do jobs human drivers don’t like, panel says

By Leo Barros, trucknews.com

As human drivers step back from longhaul and middle-mile work, autonomous trucks could help fill less-desirable roles.

Some might say this is going to take jobs away from drivers, but this is not so, says Stephan Olsen, Paccar’s general sales manager, fleet & specialty markets. Truckers want to be home every night and are seeking first- and last-mile jobs, he adds. Letting them choose jobs that offer more family time will keep them in an industry that is facing a truck driver shortage.

Let the machines do jobs that humans don’t want to do, he said during a session at Trimble’s Insight Tech User Conference and Expo in Orlando.

“Autonomy is a hand-in-glove scenario with hauling freight that has some benefit to human drivers.”

A totally autonomous truck is far out in the future and the present focus is on driver-assisted technology, stressed Ryan Rogers, founder of TextLocate. But he sees an opportunity in increased Hours of Service for drivers who will not be as fatigued.

Another company is focusing on the idea of two trucks functioning as a team. Glynn Spangenberg, chief commercial officer at Locomation, says optimizing the hours a driver can work will improve their quality of life.

Picture two drivers picking up loads, meeting on the interstate, and shifting to autonomous mode. The lead driver would drive while the following truck’s driver is off duty in the sleeper berth as the vehicle follows autonomously. When the lead driver needs to take a break or is out of hours, they swap.

Human-guided autonomy

Spangenberg says the model means the driver would still be present at the shipper, perform inspections, or interact with law enforcement if there is an emergency on the road. It’s why he believes human-guided autonomy is the way forward.

At present, a driver is responsible for what happens when they operate the vehicle. In an autonomously driven truck the software and sensors doing the driving are responsible, Olsen says. The truck OEM, camera company, or others whose name is on the side of the truck share in the responsibility.

Sensor-based views of everything going on around the vehicle provide an opportunity for a sensible conversation about the truth and help deal with liabilities, Spangenberg adds.

Rogers raised the issue of what happens if you don’t have the autonomous technology that he believes will help prevent accidents.

Although drivers want a safe experience while they work, they are nervous about being displaced, but it will take many years to get there. The panelists were of the opinion that Level 5 — or full autonomy — is not likely in our lifetime. But they believe we are headed for Level 4 or highly autonomous trucks down the road.

Autonomous trucking future ‘is almost upon us,’ Uber Freight head says

By Pras Subramanian, Yahoo News

Uber Freight (UBER) thinks it has a solution to the ongoing truck driver shortage here in the U.S.

The unit, which is Uber’s trucking logistics and supply chain management offering, said in a report released earlier this month that autonomous trucking is the key to solving the driver shortage crisis — but not because the industry won’t need drivers. They’ll just be doing a different type of driving.

“We’re getting ready for that future with drivers that will be available on both sides of the autonomous freight, available to pick up and drop off the freight that is being hauled by the autonomous truck by providing a network of drop trails on both ends that will allow for that move to happen,” said Lior Ron, the head of Uber Freight in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live.

What Uber is envisioning is a hub-to-hub system — a hybrid of human drivers working with autonomous trucks.

“Hub-to-hub essentially means that you only do the autonomous freight between a hub off the highway, close to the origin of the load, and a hub close to the destination of the load,” Ron said. “In between, the autonomous freight can run on the highway in a very predictable, very repeatable way.”

At each hub, human drivers will transport goods from essentially the first mile to the hub and the last mile from the destination hub to the final destination.

“We believe that model is much more scalable. We believe that model can actually have the density of freight you need,” Ron said. “This is going to be like the airline — you need to have as much freight going on that truck back and forth.”

Ron and Uber believe that even with such a system, the trucking industry will need more drivers for first and last mile delivery than is currently needed. While this sounds problematic given the trucker shortage the nation is experiencing, Uber said the demands of the hub-to-hub system will make the profession more attractive.

“Autonomous trucks on the long-haul middle mile would enable humans to shift to local hauls, boosting demand for skilled drivers in the local sector. Drivers will have more control over their work and be able to stay closer to home,” Uber said in its autonomous trucking report.

Currently, Uber is working with autonomous tech partners Waymo (GOOGL) and Aurora to build out its future network.

“With Aurora, we’re actively testing in Texas as we speak. We’re hauling a couple of those loads on a weekly basis to really understand the operational model,” Ron said.

The testing will allow Uber to see what hub-to-hub transfers might look like, and if the economics of switching back and forth between human driver and autonomous truck make sense.

Bigger questions include how Uber Freight and its partners will work with regulators, and if the technology is ready to deploy at scale. Ron and Uber Freight believe the system they have devised and the testing that will take place over millions of miles will prove it out.

“We think that the autonomous future is almost upon us,” he said. “And if you look at the technology maturity, we believe that in the next few years, we’re going to see autonomous trucks deployed on U.S. highways.”

Will Automation Reduce Trucking Jobs

By Jack Dunn, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

The automation of jobs has become an increasingly prominent development across the entire U.S. labor force. However, the trucking industry may be affected unlike others.

What Is Labor Automation?

Labor automation is a practice that dates back centuries in our country. It can best be described as substituting technology for human labor when performing jobs or tasks. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was able to remove the seeds from 50 pounds of cotton in a single day. Doing the job by hand only yielded about one pound of cotton per day.

Remember switchboard operators? Early telephone infrastructure used humans to link calls. Operators would manually insert phone jacks into the appropriate spot to connect calls. Those jobs are now few and far between as automatic switching has taken over.

The rise of technology and automation in the labor force has led to many great innovations, but it does have the potential to displace workers. Employees in truck driving, one of the largest occupations in the U.S., could soon face this displacement as artificial intelligence becomes a bigger presence in their field. However, the companies leading the way in automation innovation say they are not here to take jobs or threaten livelihoods, but to help.

Autonomous Driving Advances

The number of self-driving cars has been on the rise. “Market trends suggest an 11.5 percent compound average annual growth rate for advanced driver assistance systems, from about 1.8 million vehicles in 2019 to just under 6 million in 2030,” Alan Adler of trucks.com reported in a March 28, 2019, article. The article cited Navigant Research analysis.

Tesla is one automotive company leading the way in autonomous driving. According to an April 2019 AutoPilot Review article, Tesla’s autopilot feature allows the cars to drive themselves with minimal human supervision. They can also be remotely summoned and operate independently for short distances. AutoPilot Review also reported in 2022 that certain models of Ford, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and other automobiles now have similar abilities using a functioning autopilot.

The Governors Highway Safety Association notes that 38 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation or issued executive orders regarding autonomous vehicles. The District of Columbia and 16 of the 38 states have authorized full deployment of the vehicles.

Companies Are Testing Self-Driving on Semis

Companies such as FedEx and TuSimple have been testing their new self-driving feature on semitrailers in the Southwestern U.S. for the past two years. These companies declare their chief goal is to create an industry that uses human drivers via a different approach, and that they do not aim to take jobs away.

“We don’t actually think self-driving trucks are going to deprive any truck drivers [of their jobs],” TuSimple founder Xiaodi Hou said in a 2019 interview with Business Insider. “I don’t think we’re going to be enemies of the truck drivers. We’re actually very good friends with the American Trucking Associations.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were nearly two million heavy and tractor-trailer truck driving jobs in the U.S. in 2020. The American Trucking Associations said in a press release last year that the industry had an all-time-high shortage of truckers in 2021, at 80,000, and that the number was likely to grow.

Asked by Business Insider what he’d say to those truckers who value the work, Hou said his company complements–and doesn’t compete with–the traditional trucking industry.

“It’ll be a very gradual thing, and truck drivers still need to [drive] trucks,” he mentioned.

Why Are Drivers Needed?

The level of autonomy in the vehicles is another important factor in automated driving. SAE International, formerly named the Society of Automotive Engineers, breaks down automated driving into five levels.

  • Level 0 reflects features that are limited to providing warnings and momentary assistance, such as emergency braking and blind spot warning.
  • Level 5 reflects features that allow the vehicle to drive under all conditions without requiring drivers to take over.

TuSimple, for example, currently focuses on level 4 technology, which allows the vehicle to operate autonomously without any human interaction under defined conditions: A human driver does not need to take over driving responsibilities in most conditions.

While truck drivers may relinquish their driving responsibilities, there are certain aspects of the job that may require human interaction, including loading and unloading trucks, engaging in customer service, updating logbooks and filling out paperwork. However, autonomous driving could handle the long-distance highway miles, leaving the drivers to take over for the short, complicated routes closer to their delivery locations.

That could ease the stress of long-hour drives for truckers, in turn allowing for safer roads and driving conditions. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported that 4,436 vehicle occupants were killed in large truck crashes in 2019, the most recent year reported. Relieving drivers of their long-distance driving duties could help reduce crashes and fatalities.

Long-distance autonomous truck driving could be one solution that will make our highways safer, while also allowing truck drivers to keep their jobs.

What Does the Future Hold?

The future holds countless uncertainties about the effect of using automation on the labor force. Often, when certain jobs are created, others are eliminated. The World Economic Forum estimated that 12 million more jobs will be created than eliminated by 2025 due to automation, according to an Oct. 26, 2020, article on the forum’s website.

The jobs being eliminated are normally repetitive, such as data entry, or even can be dangerous, such as assembly line manufacturing, according to the article by Mohamed Kande and Murat Sonmez. Kande is U.S. and global advisory vice chair and leader at consulting firm PwC, and Sonmez is CEO and co-founder of pulsESG Inc., a software company serving environmental, social and governance organizations. The jobs created are often ones repairing or improving upon automation already in place, such as machine learning specialists.

“The technology will also change the nature of work for many other jobs, allowing workers to focus on higher-value and higher-touch tasks that often require interpersonal interactions,” Kande and Sonmez wrote. “These newly enhanced jobs will create benefits for both businesses and individuals who will have more time to be creative, strategic and entrepreneurial.”

Overall, the complete automation of trucking is far away, but automation is advancing quickly.

U.S. House lawmakers look to jump-start self-driving legislative push

By David Shepardson, Reuters

Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives are launching a bipartisan effort to help revive legislative efforts to boost self-driving vehicles.

Representatives Robert Latta, a Republican, and Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, told Reuters in a joint interview they are unveiling the bipartisan Congressional Autonomous Vehicle Caucus to help educate fellow lawmakers on the importance of self-driving vehicles as they work to revive legislation.

“We’re working hard to find that common ground to get something that we can pass,” Dingell said, adding the United States must update motor vehicle safety standards written decades ago assuming human drivers are in control and “cannot afford to have a patchwork of laws either across 50 states.”

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said General Motors and Ford Motor had asked for exemptions to deploy up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles annually without human controls like steering wheels and brake pedals, the maximum allowed under current law.

“We both come from automobile states,” Latta said. “It’s important we keep our competitiveness in the United States — that we are using U.S. technology, that it is not coming from China… It’s got to be done here in the United States.”

Latta acknowledged self-driving car legislation might not pass until the next two-year Congress that will open in 2023. “It’s important that we get members involved from all over the country,” Latta said. “This is something that is going to affect everybody.

U.S. lawmakers have been divided for years over how to amend regulations to encompass self-driving cars, including the scope of consumer and legal protections.

In 2017, the House of Representatives passed legislation to speed the adoption of self-driving cars and bar states from setting performance standards, but the bill never passed the U.S. Senate.

The lawmakers noted U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% in 2021 to 42,915, marking the highest number killed on American roads in a single-year since 2005 and said autonomous vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives and reduce congestion.

Senators Gary Peters and John Thune have also been working on autonomous vehicle legislation. They previously proposed giving NHTSA the power to initially exempt 15,000 self-driving vehicles per manufacturer from current federal motor vehicle safety standards, a figure that would rise to 80,000 within three years.

Project to Develop Self-driving Cars for Parkinson’s Seeks Patients

By Marisa Wexler, MS, Parkinson’s News Today

A new project by scientists at the University of Michigan (UM) aims to design a prototype autonomous vehicle that’s specifically designed to help meet the needs of people living with Parkinson’s disease.

The project, called “Inclusive Design in Shared Autonomous Vehicles for People with Parkinson’s Disease,” is being funded by a $40,000 grant from the UM-Dearborn – UM-Flint Collaborative Research Funding Program.

Nathaniel Miller, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at UM-Flint, is one of the scientists leading the project. Miller, whose grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015, has previously worked on developing apps that can help Parkinson’s patients monitor their disease symptoms.

“Researching Parkinson’s disease was a way for me to mix my academic passion with family,” Miller said in a university press release.

Also collaborating on the project are Charlotte Tang, PhD a UM-Flint associate professor of computer science, and Shan Bao, PhD, a UM-Dearborn associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering.

Parkinson’s disease is marked by a number of symptoms that may make driving difficult and/or unsafe, including motor symptoms such as tremor as well as non-motor disturbances such as unusual sleepiness or hallucinations. But getting care typically requires patients to travel long distances in order to see specialists; the average in-person specialist visit would involve traveling about 100 miles, requiring a patient to spend more than three hours driving, according to Miller.

The idea for a project about autonomous vehicles arose during the development of an app for Parkinson’s patients, as the scientists were working to understand the practical needs of people with the disease.

Autonomous vehicles, sometimes called “self-driving” cars, are designed so that certain actions — particularly functions critical for safety, like steering, acceleration, or braking — don’t require active input from the driver.

“A recurring theme that has come up is that people with Parkinson’s disease have different lifestyles but they share the desire to carry out tasks independently,” Miller said.

The aim of this project is to create an autonomous vehicle specifically designed to accommodate the needs of Parkinson’s patients. This summer, the researchers will be working to design the study, which will involve simulated driving scenarios conducted at labs across the three UM campuses.

The researchers are now looking for Parkinson’s patients to participate in the project, which is expected to begin this autumn. For more information or to get involved, patients can contact Miller at [email protected].

Aurora Adds Fourth Fleet Partner for Autonomous Pilot

By Roger Gilroy, Transport Topics

Autonomous technology developer Aurora Innovation Inc. and Schneider National Inc. have announced a commercial pilot effort to haul freight for Schneider’s customers with Aurora Driver, Aurora’s autonomous technology.

Under the pilot, Aurora will begin weekly autonomous hauls beginning the week of Aug. 1 between Dallas and Houston, with Aurora vehicle operators on board the trucks. Load frequency is expected to increase as Schneider expands its relationship with Aurora, both in terms of volume of hauls and the lanes, the companies said in an Aug. 1 news release.

Aurora said the arrangement will be instrumental in helping advance Aurora Horizon, its subscription-based autonomous trucking product.

“Preparing Aurora Horizon for prime time with Schneider spring-loads our ability to deploy our product at scale in the years to come,” Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s co-founder and chief product officer, said in a release.

Schneider ranks No. 8 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

Pittsburgh-based Aurora said this latest pilot is intended to strengthen and prepare Aurora Horizon in three areas ahead of its launch:

  • Autonomy at scale — Aurora Driver learns from every load it hauls autonomously.
  • Vehicle readiness — Weekly hauls allow Aurora to test the durability of its next-generation trucks, based on the Peterbilt 579, for commercial operation and deployment.
  • Premium service — The commercial pilot enables Schneider to play a critical role in testing and validating Aurora’s product and service.

The Schneider agreement is the fourth pilot program Aurora has in progress to carry loads autonomously. It operates terminals in South Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth and El Paso to support multiple commercial lanes. It also hauls freight for Werner, FedEx and Uber Freight. “Understanding more about an autonomous future is the logical next step to build a network that continues to deliver the best service for our customers,” said Rob Reich, chief administrative officer at Schneider.

Aurora also collaborates with U.S. Xpress and Covenant to design deployment strategies for autonomous technology, in addition to manufacturer agreements.

“We have OEM partnerships with both Paccar, Peterbilt’s parent company, and Volvo Trucks North America, who both work with us through the Aurora Driver Development Program to develop deeply integrated, heavy-duty trucks that meet the exacting requirements of the Aurora Driver. We also work on the sales, service and support model that carriers and private fleets will rely on,” an Aurora spokesperson told TT.

“Together, we’re identifying the lanes that can most benefit from early deployment of Aurora Horizon, explore application programming interface integrations into their platforms to enhance dispatching and dynamic routing, and model where these trucks can offset unmet demand,” the spokesperson added. “With both groups of partners, our goal is to build a future where goods are moved by both human drivers and autonomous trucks.”

Aurora is also applying autonomous technology in passenger cars.