California Reconsiders its Policy on Autonomous Vehicles

By Katherine Q. Zhang, Scott Scoop

A new bill introduced by the California Department of Motor Vehicles in late January requires a trained human safety operator to be present whenever a heavy-duty autonomous vehicle operates on public roads.

If the legislation authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and principally co-authored by Assemblymembers Tom Lackey and Ash Kalra is passed, self-driving trucks over 10,001 pounds will be required to have a safety driver behind the wheel. 

According to the American Trucking Association, there is a shortage of truck drivers, with 78,000 jobs available in 2022 and 160,000 expected openings by 2031 due to the aging workforce. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are a potential solution to this problem.

“We believe AVs hold a promise to improve road safety and to offer new mobility options to millions of people,” said Aiden Ali-Sullivan, manager of state policy and government affairs for Waymo LLC.

The shortage of drivers in the trucking industry has been a significant factor motivating companies to explore AVs as a solution. According to Jonny Morris, the head of corporate affairs at Embark Trucks Inc, the cost of hiring and retaining drivers and the difficulty in finding qualified and reliable ones has put a strain on the industry for years.

“Drivers do a lot more than just drive a truck: they’re involved in a lot of record keeping and human interactions with shippers. Their expertise and improvisation are often valued for off-highway environments,” Morris said.

AVs have the potential to address this issue by reducing labor costs and allowing companies to operate trucks around the clock without the need for breaks or rest time. It also opens opportunities for new jobs.

“We anticipate that several new roles will emerge as part of operations over time, including Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) drivers, transfer hub operations, and yard operations like AV inspections and refueling,” Ali-Sullivan said.

California first allowed the operation of autonomous trucks weighing up to 10,001 pounds on state roads in 2014 with a driver, then in 2018, allowed testing without a driver.  

A group of companies, including Waymo, Aurora, TuSimple, Einride, Uber Freight, and UPS, wrote to California Governor Gavin Newsom in June 2022 to request permission to operate larger AV trucks on state roads. The letter urged the state to increase the allowed weight of AV trucks from 10,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds, arguing that this would improve efficiency and safety in the industry. 

According to Richard Steiner, the head of policy and communications at Gatik, it is important to note that AVs on public roads are still in the testing phase, and any expansion of their use would need to be carefully evaluated and regulated to ensure safety and prevent accidents. 

Expanding on what would happen once AVs are fully developed and approved for on-the-road travel, Ali-Sullivan added his vision for the future.

“We anticipate that once approved, the economic benefits to California will occur very gradually and grow over time. There will be a testing and development process for a new expansion of operations and a longer ramp-up period for us to build out infrastructure,” Ali-Sullivan said.

San Jacinto College and Nuro Announce First AV Technician Certificate Program in Texas

By Amanda Fenwick, San Jacinto College

San Jacinto College announced a partnership today with Nuro, a leading autonomous vehicle (AV) company, to create the first AV technician certificate program in Texas as part of Nuro’s national Autonomous Upskilling Initiative.

San Jacinto students will be able to start this unique, one-year certificate program starting Fall 2023. It includes hybrid coursework allowing students to merge computer design and automotive engineering skills, and prepare for jobs in the AV industry. The AV delivery service industry has the potential to create and sustain 3.4 million jobs annually between 2025-2035, according to a Steer report.

“San Jacinto College has a rich history of being at the forefront of helping students build industry-relevant skills. From maritime, aerospace, and automotive technician training, to supporting the petrochemical and medical industries in our region, our college has always done a great job preparing the workforce for the future. We’re excited to partner with Nuro to create the state’s first autonomous technician certificate program for our students, and we appreciate their partnership,” said Dr. Brenda Hellyer, San Jacinto College Chancellor.

Nuro sees tremendous potential in the AV industry. There is a massive demand for autonomous delivery at scale, which the company aims to meet by partnering with some of the world’s leading brands and making last-mile deliveries in communities with its zero-occupant, zero-emission electric delivery vehicles. By scaling up this service, Nuro wants to strengthen local commerce and drive equitable access to fresh food and other essential goods to underserved communities across the United States.

“Nuro’s expansion in the Houston area will benefit from our ability not only to attract talent but also to meet the growing demand in this field. What’s unique about this program is that it’s open to everyone from first-year students to experienced professionals who want to explore the electric and autonomous vehicle industry. I’m excited to be a part of an effort that will redefine how we train and retain the future workforce in this industry,” said EV Ellington, Head of On-Road Operations at Nuro.

Nuro has the California Bay Area-based De Anza College as part of its Upskilling Initiative to create education and training opportunities in AV.

Why USA Truck’s former CEO joined Kodiak Robotics

By David Taube, Transport Dive

Former USA Truck CEO James Reed recently shifted into the role of COO at autonomous truck tech company Kodiak Robotics.

Reed talked with Transport Dive about his background, Kodiak’s autonomous trucking technology and his decision to join the AV tech firm.

The executive talked about how autonomous trucking could improve lifestyles for drivers, delved into the differences between AV tech approaches and explained why he placed his “career bet” on Kodiak.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

TRANSPORT DIVE: Why were you drawn to Kodiak?

JAMES REED: Our company was exploring the autonomous space, and we weren’t working exclusively with Kodiak. So we were moving freight with some autonomous vehicle providers, just trying to dip our toe in the water and understand it, and we had formed a really good relationship with Kodiak.

On the merits of ability to go to market, I thought Kodiak’s mirror pod solution, as far as mapping goes, was frankly the most scalable and maybe even the most clever way to go to market. So I was like, ‘If I’m gonna place a bet, this is where I’ve placed my career bet.’ And I really liked the team, too.

TRANSPORT DIVE: How you are you seeing Kodiak stack up against its competition? Could you elaborate on Kodiak’s technology?

REED: It’s been Kodiak’s intention from the get-go to move sensor suites into the mirror pods. Being able to replace a pod quickly and efficiently and keep the truck moving is a lot easier than the alternatives.

Many in the industry are using high-density mapping. Once they create that fully featured map, the vehicle essentially drives, which is great — until the map’s wrong.

The technology needs to recognize two things. First, it needs to recognize that the map doesn’t match what it’s ‘seeing’ — I’ll use that word. And then it needs to perceive what it’s seeing and devise a reaction to it. So at some level, perception will be required of most solutions. That’s my layperson understanding of it.

At Kodiak, we define lane parameters. So we’ll drive a lane. In our mapping, we will map the lane markers. And then we deploy a vehicle shortly thereafter. And that vehicle can go in autonomous mode, understanding where the lane markers are, calculating a forward path every millisecond to predict where it should go. So it’s really a low overhead way to deploy perception into the autonomous space. It’s pretty brilliant.

TRANSPORT DIVE: There’s been this tension between new technology and what that might do to jobs. Have you seen this resistance play out firsthand?

REED: One of the interesting innovations in trucks was when when automatic transmissions came into long-haul trucking. So fast forward into the early 2010s: It’s really hard to recruit a driver. Some of the newer drivers didn’t know how to drive anything but an automatic. … And for fleets, it was cheaper to run automatic transmissions, better fuel economy, you could get more drivers because you get these guys and gals with automatic designations on their CDLs into the trucks. And the old timers hated it, saying ‘I’ll never drive an automatic.’ Well, I can give you names of dozens of drivers that have been driving 30–40 years, who now wouldn’t drive anything other than an automatic.

I’m not saying that’s a perfect corollary for autonomy, but today, we have a driver shortage. It’s approaching 80,000 drivers and projected to worsen. As you look forward, we’ve got an opportunity in the transportation industry to ameliorate and to alleviate the challenge around driver recruitment by supplementing it with autonomous vehicles. You’re much more likely to push jobs to the types of jobs that drivers like, such as being home daily. Local jobs are going to be much more prevalent, especially if we can fill that middle mile section, which is our intent with autonomous technology.

TRANSPORT DIVE: If other executives are considering a similar move from traditional trucking companies to self-driving companies, what advice do you have for them?

REED: It’s the same advice that I have for investors. It’s the same advice that I have for potential customers: Get educated and form an opinion. I mean, my choice to join Kodiak was a well-informed choice that’s taken five years to develop an opinion about the industry. I would caution them to be careful to make sure that this is a space that they understand and that they want to have a voice in. I truly believe in the technology. I believe it’s further along than most people realize.

If somebody thinks they’re wired that way, by all means, call Kodiak first.

Clemson University to Launch Nation’s First Bachelor of Science Program in Automotive Engineering

By ClemsonNews,

Clemson University is launching the nation’s first undergraduate Bachelor of Science program in automotive engineering to meet the rapidly changing needs of an industry that is starting to trade the internal combustion engine for batteries and human drivers for self-driving cars.

The new program solidifies Clemson’s position as the premier University for automotive engineering research and education in the Southeast and beyond and adds to the offerings at its award-winning Greenville campus, the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR).

The degree program’s creators expect it will help meet massive demand for a new breed of automotive engineer to lead the design and manufacture of cars and trucks that are quickly becoming computers on wheels powered by electricity.

“Clemson University will continue to lead the way for automotive engineering,” said President Jim Clements. “We are at the heart of the Southeast’s auto industry, and as South Carolina’s leading provider of engineering talent, Clemson is uniquely positioned to launch the nation’s first Bachelor of Science degree in automotive engineering. Through working in tandem with industry, state and federal partners, we are able to shape the future of mobility and create a robust workforce.”

Students can expect an interdisciplinary curriculum with a strong experiential learning component that is aimed at preparing them for the future of automotive manufacturing with an emphasis on cutting-edge technologies ranging from electric vehicles, advanced materials, advanced manufacturing and semiconductors to e-hailing, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicle software.

The program’s creators expect it to launch with as many as 30 students in fall 2023 and grow to over 200 by fall 2027.

Undergraduates majoring in automotive engineering will be based on the main campus for their first two years, providing them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the full Clemson Experience, including cheering on the Tigers football team in Memorial Stadium, swimming in Lake Hartwell and eating ice cream at the ’55 Exchange.

For their final two years, students will shift to CU-ICAR, a campus that is home to Clemson’s automotive engineering faculty and graduate program. On the campus, they will be able to take full advantage of the unique experimental facilities and the expertise located there.

A bus service already in place connects CU-ICAR to the main campus 45 minutes away.

Clemson launched its graduate program in automotive engineering in 2006 and was the first university in the country to graduate a Ph.D. student in automotive engineering and the first to graduate a woman with a Ph.D. in automotive engineering.

Zoran Filipi, founding director of the School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering, said Clemson will build on talent and infrastructure already in place to create the undergraduate program.

“Some of the world’s leading thought leaders and most creative innovators in automotive engineering are on the faculty in the School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering,” Filipi said. “We offer cutting-edge facilities, impactful learning experiences and opportunities to collaborate closely with industry partners. Clemson is uniquely positioned to lead in automotive engineering at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.”

Clemson also has a unique geographic advantage that helps position the University to offer the program. The auto industry in South Carolina employs 74,000 and has an economic impact of $27 billion, according to the state Department of Commerce.

The broader Southeast region is home to a growing number of Original Equipment Manufacturers. Within 500 miles of Clemson, the community includes BMW, Volvo, Proterrra, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Honda, Tesla, Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan and Kia. Each brings a network of suppliers that also create jobs.

The switch to autonomous and electric cars could create as many as 115,000 additional U.S. automotive and mobility industry jobs in the coming decade, including 45,000 for mobility engineers alone, according to a 2019 report by Boston Consulting Group.

Several recent investments that are helping create those jobs in South Carolina were mentioned in Gov. Henry McMaster’s Jan. 25 State of the State address.

To name a few examples:

  • Redwood Materials will invest $3.5 billion for a new battery materials recycling facility, the single largest announcement in the history of South Carolina.
  • BMW is investing $1 billion to prepare its Spartanburg plant to produce electric vehicles and $700 million to build a new, high-voltage battery assembly facility.
  • Bosch plans to invest $200 million in Anderson County to create the company’s first production operation of fuel cell technology in the United States and another $260 million as Bosch launches production of electric motors in Dorchester County to support the U.S. market demand for electrified vehicles.

Those three investments alone are expected to create 2,500 jobs.

Laine Mears, chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering, said demand for automotive engineers is soaring.

“The entire global automotive industry is turning on a dime, and Clemson is stepping up to take the lead to meet industry’s changing needs for both technology and workforce,” he said. “The new undergraduate degree will be a truly integrative program that brings together talent from across a spectrum of disciplines, preparing students for the challenges of the future.”

Students will start with a General Engineering curriculum that includes calculus, physics and other foundational courses required of engineering majors at Clemson. After their first year, students will be eligible to begin taking automotive engineering classes.

By their senior year, students will be ready to work on Deep Orange prototype vehicles as capstone projects.

Those who complete the undergraduate program will receive a Bachelor of Science in automotive engineering. Students who decide to join the first cohort are currently in their first year in college and would be on track to graduate in 2026.

Srikanth Pilla, the ExxonMobil Employees Endowed Chair and Professor of Automotive Engineering, led the development of the curriculum for the new undergraduate program.

“While the new degree program was created in an automotive context, the curriculum has been designed broadly enough that impactful experiences will reach far beyond the car, and students will be well-qualified for a number of careers in the mobility and technology workforces,” said Pilla, who is also the founding director of AIM for Composites Energy Frontier Research Center and the Clemson Composites Center.

“Employers could range from car and aerospace companies to the U.S. Army and software companies such as Google, Apple and Meta. This is a robust curriculum filled with hands-on learning experiences aimed at preparing students to make a contribution on day one of their careers.”

The undergraduate degree adds to a growing list of marquee programs at CU-ICAR that include:

  • A graduate program that has graduated 791 master’s students and 100 Ph.D. students, with virtually all finding jobs in the automotive industry or academia
  • Deep Orange, a program that gives students a chance to design and build a prototype vehicle, mirroring the experience of working at an original equipment manufacturer or supplier
  • Virtual Prototyping of Autonomy-Enabled Ground Systems (VIPR-GS), an organization that is part of a research partnership aimed at developing innovative virtual prototyping tools to design the next generation of autonomy-enabled, on- and off-road vehicles, with the U.S. government committing up to $100 million
  • AIM for Composites, an Energy Frontier Research Center that is advancing how composite materials are created through artificial intelligence and inverse engineering

Clemson’s new undergraduate program will differ from automotive specialties in traditional departments and automotive. While technology programs concentrate on manufacturing, routine design, construction and end operations, Clemson is going beyond the technical requirements by creating an automotive engineering degree that will focus on advanced design, development and technical management of the vehicle realization process.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said Clemson’s new undergraduate degree program will help meet workforce needs for the growing automotive industry.

“This multidisciplinary program brings together top talent, cutting-edge facilities and impactful experiences to create the leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs of the future,” he said. “By creating the future workforce, the program will help strengthen the automotive industry in South Carolina and the broader Southeastern region. I thank the team that designed the new program and congratulate its members on a job well done.”

Amazon’s Self-Driving Car Shuttles People on Public Roads for First Time

By Ed Ludlow, Bloomberg News

Zoox Inc., the self-driving startup owned by Inc., carried passengers in its fully autonomous vehicle on public roads for the first time.

In February, the electric vehicle, which doesn’t have a steering wheel, ran a mile-long route carrying staff between Zoox’s two main buildings in Foster City, Calif., the company said in a statement. The firm will now operate a shuttle for employees on the same trip while it seeks additional clearances to expand its service to the public.

The company said the robotaxi trip marks the first time that a vehicle designed without human controls has carried passengers on a public road.

Zoox’s driverless testing permit, which it has held since September 2020, was extended by California to include the purpose-built robotaxi. To date, Zoox’s public-road testing has been limited to a fleet of retrofitted gas-powered cars that carry sensors powering the self-driving technology.

Zoox, which Amazon acquired in 2020 for an undisclosed sum, is racing a collection of startups, including General Motors Co.’s Cruise, to deploy robotaxis. Meanwhile, scrutiny of the technology over safety concerns is increasing.

On Feb. 3, Cruise said it had received permission from California’s department of motor vehicles to test its own Origin shuttle on the state’s public roads. They have not yet done so.

The Zoox robotaxi doesn’t have traditional controls or pedals and can carry four passengers split across two inward facing rows of seats. On the Foster City route, it will travel at a top speed of 35 miles per hour.

Zoox unveiled its robotaxi at the end of 2020 and has been conducting testing at its own facility.

Move forward on Self-Driving Legislation for Kentucky

By Jeff Farrah, Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association

Each year, far too many Kentuckians lose their lives in motor vehicle crashes, with 734 traffic fatalities in 2022 alone. Nationally, roadway deaths are roughly equivalent to an airplane crashing every day. These tragic statistics don’t include the thousands of injuries and property damage that occur each year, often due to preventable reasons like impaired or distracted driving. Drivers on their cell phones are between 2-6 times more likely to crash. Fortunately, autonomous vehicles (AVs)—which use advanced technology to perform the entire driving task without human involvement—will save lives in Kentucky if policymakers take action to realize these benefits.

Unlike human-operated motor vehicles, AVs are deliberately designed to improve safety conditions since AVs don’t speed, they don’t drive under the influence, and they don’t drive distracted. By passing legislation like House Bill (HB) 135 to support safe and swift AV deployment and commercialization, Kentucky policymakers can introduce a paradigm shift for the state’s safety, mobility, and economic growth.

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have a variety of use cases, including passenger cars engaged in ride-hailing, zero-occupancy delivery vehicles, shuttles, and trucks. AVs are equipped with an “automated driving system” consisting of advanced technology, such as machine vision and artificial intelligence, and hardware that gives the vehicle a 360-degree view that far exceeds the visibility of a human driver. Because AVs do not have a human responsible for the driving process, they can make better, quicker decisions. One company found that their AV was able to avoid or mitigate 88 out of 91 real-world crashes. In short, AVs are purpose-built for safety.

The first step toward realizing the benefits of AVs in Kentucky is passing legislation establishing a legal framework authorizing AV operations. Under the leadership of Representative Josh Bray, House Bill (HB) 135 forges a pathway for the deployment of the technology while ensuring AVs meet high safety standards, comply with all traffic laws, and respond to law enforcement.

In addition to increased safety, AVs will further Kentucky’s economic growth and new highs for job creation and private investment—including in advanced manufacturing industries. Autonomous trucks will also boost the state’s status as a leader in supply chains and logistics. Companies like DHL and Amazon rely on Kentucky for their shipping hubs because the state is located within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population. These same companies (and many more) are exploring AV trucks to increase delivery speed and efficiencies between warehouses and consumers. AV trucks are critically important because, according to the American Trucking Association, there is a shortage of 80,000 drivers—and that figure is expected to double by 2030. A study from the U.S. Department of Transportation confirmed that AVs would increase investment spending across all sectors, grow the U.S. economy, and create jobs without mass layoffs for drivers.

Furthermore, the disability community, elderly individuals, and Kentucky residents living in transportation deserts all stand to benefit from the new mobility opportunities brought about by the broad deployment of AVs. Whether delivering groceries and essential goods to those in need or giving the underprivileged a new sense of independence, AVs will help people and goods get where they need to go.

Over 20 states have already passed legislation explicitly authorizing AV operation on public roads, including neighboring states like Tennessee and West Virginia. Without an AV law of its own, Kentucky might cede economic and innovation leadership to surrounding states and risks being passed over as commercial partnerships are established.

Enacting HB 135 into law will help boost supply chain resilience and usher in high-quality jobs for Kentucky residents while making Kentucky roads safer and more accessible for those in need. I urge Kentucky lawmakers to pass this bill and deliver it for Kentucky road users, consumers, and businesses.