Along for the Ride #101

Heya friends, happy Monday!

Firstly, I’d like to thank everybody for the warm response my 100th newsletter received. Absolutely chuffed and slightly over-whelmed by how many of you responded to say the issue resonated with them. Onwards and upwards, together.

Second, I’ve been noodling on ideas for how to bring guest authors into this digest for a while, and I have two questions for you:

  1. If I created a paid subscription which readers could opt into, would you support with a nominal monthly fee ($5, £5) so that I could pay guest authors a fair wage for their work? N.B. All profit would go directly to the guest authors, and all editions would remain publicly available.

  2. Whose perspective and work would you be interested in seeing here? Feel free to nominate yourself + others!

OK, now onto le news.

Celebrating Black Excellence

This week I want to highlight a piece my friend, colleague, and thought-leader Georgia Yexley wrote for Bike Biz. She speaks about how the cycling and mobility industries, particularly in the UK, have failed to engage in deeper conversations about racism, and why it’s not too late to start.

“In half a decade working in micromobility internationally, I have worked with more white men named ‘Steve’ or ‘Phil’ than I have Black Women. This over-representation has no relevance to the popularity of those names here in the UK. My calculations include teams and partner organisations working across Latin America, South East Asia, North America, Europe, China and Australia. There is little reason the balance should be that off.”

Georgia’s article deep dives into how our industry can build better awareness, embed accountability into to our commitments, and how we can *actually* act upon them.

Government and Policy

Washington DC expands AV trial

DC’s waterfront is now the latest test site for a fleet of Optimus Ride AVs. The vehicles are available for pick-ups in the Yards with access to Barracks Row and Capitol Hill. Ridership is currently limited to a select group of residents in waterfront apartment buildings, which is similar to when the service made its debut at a mixed-use housing development in Reston.

A new vision for Oxford Street

Westminster City Council launched a new vision for the future of the Oxford Street this week. From Tottenham Court to Marble Arch, this document outlines plans which include what appear to be completely pedestrianized plazas along the route. If this vision came to fruition, it would be an incredible step forward for a district which has been plagued with defeat after defeat when it comes to pedestrianization.

Germany plans to legalise AVs

Germany is drafting legislation which would (in theory) allow for AVs on public roads within the next 12 months. No word yet on how this legislation will be shaped, but it is likely the country will only allow autonomous vehicles in predefined zones.

Uber’s very bad, no-good, absolutely terrible day in the UK

This past week saw the UK Supreme Court make a hotly anticipated decision regarding Uber’s drivers: are they, or are they not, classified employers of the techno-transportation giant? According to the court, Uber drivers are indeed employees of the firm, and must be treated as such.

This debate is fascinating to me, as I’ve spent the last year oscillating between the US and UK. In the US, where government provided social safety nets are nearing extinction, Prop 22 was a major ballot issue with ripple effects far beyond California. Meanwhile, the UK has a relatively robust social safety net, with the NHS being one of the most beloved and fought for institutions in the country. Drivers already had access to healthcare and other critical social services, while Prop 22 was fighting for what (imho) are basic services which should be universally available and publicly funded. So with this ruling, what do drivers in the UK get? Well, they are now entitled to a minimum wage and vacation time. For those who don’t know, UK minimum vacation for any full time employee is 24 days per annum. I know many American right now are probably like 🤯. I for one, a vocal proponent of rest, am very excited for all the hard working drivers who will finally be able to take a break without worrying about a financial shortfall.

What should DC do about AVs?

Jeffrey Tumlin, Director of SFMTA, wrote a piece about how the NHSTA should be thinking about AV legislation and policy.

“The bottom line is that transit remains the most energy and space efficient way to move large numbers of people long distances in and around cities. To keep up with Europe and Asia, make room for AVs on city streets, and prevent climate catastrophe, expanding Washington investment in world class public transit is essential.”

Will the AV Start Act come to fruition in 2021?

This article does a great job at recapping the history of AV legislation in the US, beginning in 2018. If you’re interested in where congress is currently at in their discussions, and plans the main bill (bi-partisan) sponsors have for 2021, this article is a great place to dive in.

Industry

Waymo to bring taxi service to San Francisco

Waymo has started limited rider testing in San Francisco with employee volunteers to gather feedback and continue to improve their technology. They don’t provide many details, but it likely follows the initial trials they conducted in Chandler, AZ.

I was also fascinated by this quote from their press release: “When asked to name factors making it hard to get around the city, 63 percent of respondents [in SF] pointed to dangerous drivers, 74 percent to parking and 57 percent to stressful commutes. Worryingly, nearly a quarter didn't feel safe on San Francisco’s roads at all.”

So, who wants to tell Waymo about dedicated cycle lanes, decreased speed limits, live transit timetables, and a whole host of other infrastructure which has already proven capable of solving these concerns—while also decreasing demand for driving?

Ford sells their entire stake in Velodyne

Ford sold off its stake in Velodyne Lidar, a leading maker of AV sensors. Ford’s initial 2016 $75 million investment returned them a pretty penny: $244.2 million in 2021. Ford will continue using Velodyne’s technology in their autonomous programme.

Apple is looking for a LiDAR partner

Is this news? Maybe. Headlines whirled this week at the news that Apple is looking for a vehicle sensor supplier. No indication yet of who the company will partner with, but safe to say, when Apple does sign-on it will be a boost of confidence many companies spend their years working towards.

May Mobility partners with Ouster

In actual news, May Mobility has partnered with Ouster to provide LiDAR sensors for their autonomous shuttles. Ouster design and manufacture digital high-resolution LiDAR sensors.

Daimler’s Torc Robotics partners with AWS

Torc, Daimler’s freight AV unit, has partnered with Amazon Web Services to help the company manage its data in real time as it prepares to test autonomous trucks in New Mexico and Virginia.

Research and Academia

How do dedicated transit lanes impact traffic on adjacent roads?

The University of Minnesota published a study on dedicated transit lanes (e.g. for light rail transit or bus rapid transit) and the potential they have to attract more riders and take a portion of the auto mode share, reducing the growth of auto traffic. They looked to Minneapolis’ Green Line, and found that the Green Line reduced annual average daily traffic on adjacent road segments by 18% (!). This is huge, as many naysayers tend to argue that dedicated transit lanes tend to push traffic into adjacent neighbourhoods, generating more traffic than it potentially eliminates.

Extra Bits + Bobs

Events

  • Conference: Disruptive womxn powering our autonomous future. We often assume the technology introduced into our daily lives has been designed and developed by those who represent our society as a whole. However, the statistics tell a different story. To address this, this (free!) conference will discuss womxn representation within the AV industry, elevating womxn into positions of power to affect change and supporting young womxn with the desire to forge a career in AV technology.

  • Showcase: Assuring the safety of highly automated vehicles (HAVs). The Connected Places Catapult is hosting a webinar about the ideas they have developed in collaboration with the DfT and the University of Warwick to assurance safety of AVs. These ideas will be built on by the DfT as they develop regulatory assurance processes for HAVs to help bring the technology to market.

Things you should apply for:

  • Powershift is searching for a Co-Executive Director. Powershift is a youth and BIPOC-led climate nonprofit which mobilizes the collective power of young people to mitigate climate change and create a just, clean energy future and resilient, thriving communities for all.

  • Waymo Internships: Waymo is hiring for 48 (!) interns right now. If you’ve got young people in your life, this is surely one of the more interesting ways to spend a summer.

That’s all from me, have a beautiful weekend friends!

Sarah