Along for the Ride #98

Heya friends, happy Friday!

This month I wanted to include a feature celebrating Black excellence in our industry. From industry leaders such as Zoox CEO, Aicha Evans, and Policy Director of AVs at Intel, Angel Preston, to policy powerhouses such as Warren Logan at the City of Oakland, there are so many excellent Black folks to highlight this month (and every month).

This week I am highlighting some perhaps lesser known folks that I think you should be aware of, and in the following week’s I’ll highlight articles, thought-pieces and other media which highlights Black excellence across the transportation + technology industry.

My inbox is also wide-open for you to share Black folks you think I should highlight here, your own successes, and resources you’ve found informative or astute at depicting the inherent racism which remains prevalent in our industry still today.

Celebrating Black Excellence

People you should know about:

  • Francisca Rockey is the founder of Black Geographers, a collective which supports Black geography students with mentorship opportunities while working to tackle the erasure of Black people in geography.

  • Henry Greenidge is the Director of Partnerships & Head of Public Affairs at REEF Technology and a Fellow-in-Residence at the NYU McSilver Institute. Previously, Henry led state and local government affairs in addition to public engagement for Cruise.

  • Bridget Ackeifi is a manager at Bloomberg Associates, where she consults on projects from urban orchards in Milan to social recovery post-Covid. Bridget is one of my biggest supporters of this newsletter, and she frequently shares links which regularly appear in Along for the Ride.

  • Rachel Goffe is an urban geographer and architect, currently holding a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Black Geographies at Temple University. She and Shaeeda Mensah are currently hosting a reading group called Black Geographies and Black Philosophies, which you can still sign-up to participate in.

  • France Francois leads Citi Bike’s equity and community programs, where she has led a community engagement strategy that resulted in a 60% increase in enrollment in programs for low-income New Yorkers (leading to 2.6 million rides!).

Wondering what to do with this list of remarkable human beings? I’d suggest following their work, considering them for board seats, and inviting them to speak at your conferences as a start.

Government and Policy

Norways’s latest AV pilot kicks off

The new program, based in Gjesdal, is a continuation of a previous autonomous driving project in Helsinki, Finland, undertaken in spring 2020. This new phase will include Toyota Proace vehicles, in addition to a revised version of the company’s autonomous driving software, and updated features for demand-based public transportation. The vehicle will travel along a dedicated 3.3km route, but will not host passengers onboard. The primary objective of the pilot is to test drive vehicles in the harsh Norwegian winter while mapping the proposed route for future projects.

The growing importance of vehicle access

One of the biggest barriers to vaccine rollout has been providing transportation to people who can’t easily get to vaccine sites, particularly aging communities. In the US, an estimated two million people 65 and older are mostly or completely homebound and another five million have health conditions that make it hard to get out.

“Millions of older adults and low-income people of color who are at higher risk of contracting the virus don’t have cars, don’t drive or don’t live near public transit… It’s incredibly complicated how the vaccine planning played out across the country. Transportation was overlooked.” 

Automakers pushing for new regulations in America

The Coalition for Future Mobility (AKA four-dozen odd automakers, start-ups and advocacy groups from across the US), sent a letter to Congressional leaders Wednesday urging action on legislation that would allow for greater deployment of autonomous vehicles. The letter is short and sweet, concluding that “other countries are moving forward with AV policies, and the U.S. - home of self-driving technology - should not allow itself to lose its leadership position.”

My favourite signatory? The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, of course.

Industry

AutoX providing driver-free rides in Shenzen

The day has come where “fully” autonomous vehicles are now available for ride-hailing on the open roads of Shenzen, through tech company AutoX. The program begins with a limited pilot where riders must pre-register online, and AutoX will select which people are invited to ride in the company’s driverless vehicles. This is a very similar approach to Waymo’s Chandler rollout last year.

Ford and Google Partner

This partnership focuses bringing Google’s Android platform to power the in-vehicle entertainment systems in “millions” of Ford’s cars starting in 2023.

With an announcement like this one, I become a bit skeptical about the power shared between companies such as Ford and Google, particularly in their combined power to jointly shape our transportation systems. Back in 2017 my Masters dissertation focused on divergent views held by cities and auto OEMs / tech companies as it related to autonomous vehicles. In particular, my research considered what impact this would have on the Greater London Authority and TfL. This news pinpoints a concern I’ve held for a number of years, so I’ve pulled a quote from that research to share with you today:

“Given that motor manufacturers and tech companies enjoy a large amount of freedom due to their power, the development and deployment of AVs will most likely follow their business interests and the interests of their customers. This will undoubtedly undermine the Greater London Authority’s plan to provide more equitable and better public transportation as they define it in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy.”

So, I’d guess you could say I’ll keep my eyes peeled for how a partnership such as this evolves over time, thinking about the long-term impacts these power-house partnerships will have on urban transportation systems at a local and global level.

How Hitachi teaches cars to drive like humans

This article details some learning from HumanDrive, a pilot program in UK, led my a consortium of automakers, universities and government bodies. Hitachi developed the software for perceiving the external environment and planning a safe path accounting for any obstacles. In this article they detail how they designed perception into vehicles:

“…humans learn to drive differently than machines – to start, most of us learn to drive as teenagers, after 16 or 18 years of vision development. We've learned already to have good perception. All we learn then is how to control the vehicle.”

Extra Bits + Bobs

That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend friends!

Sarah