Along for the Ride #99
Heya friends, happy Friday and happy Lunar New Year!
99 newsletter editions later… ! I wrote this week’s newsletter to the soulful sounds of Natalie Cole, so if you’d like to start your weekend with a bit of a groove, I’d highly recommend listening along as you read.
PS. I am looking for somebody with a keen eye for graphics + design to help me ~brand~ this newsletter. Know anybody good? Shoot me an email!
Celebrating Black Excellence
This week I’ve been thinking about content related to transportation, racial justice, and technology to share. Overwhelmingly one of the most popular books recommended is Color of the Law—and while the content is essential and oft overlooked, I can’t help but realize that this work is still written by a white man. It makes me reflect on my broader education, and that for every professor I’ve had—from Vancouver, the Bay Area, or London—none of them have been Black. Not a single one. Worst of all, I never questioned why I was learning Black history from predominantly White voices, which were undoubtedly detached from reality.
So today I am sharing a non-exhaustive list of literature, written by Black folks, on the subjects mentioned above. These are great starting points, and I’d encourage you to dive deeper into their work:
Black Software (via Carlton McIlwain) takes a deep-dive into how Black folks helped build the technology systems we all use today, the erasure of their contribution, and how black people seized these new computing tools to build community, wealth, and convene for racial justice
Lastly, this blog on how society disbelieves, devalues and discredits the contributions of Black women is incredibly powerful. I’d highly recommend giving it a read, and considering any behaviours which you might be guilty of without realizing it.
Government and Policy
As a former Texas resident, can I just say “welp”. Austin is set to receive $7.5B from the state to expand highway I-35, with the intention behind the project being to tackle the influx of traffic in the Austin area. Here’s a good twitter thread on how highway expansions do everything but reduce congestion.
Peachtree Corners, a so-called “smart city” just outside Atlanta, is hoping to attract AV companies to come test in their “corner” of the world. The city has secured a test vehicle from Ford to “help companies and organisations develop and prove out new advanced mobility and autonomous technologies.”
NPR has a piece on NUMTOTs, and why they (a) find public transit “cute”, and (b) are so concerned about the current impact of the pandemic on public transit. It’s a quick three minute listen!
Germany is home to many an auto OEM, the autobahn, and thankfully, now some new laws designed to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists in Berlin. The program will put forward a pedestrian-priority model which includes longer green lights for pedestrians / cyclists, safer school routes for kids, more crosswalks and more benches, and a crack down on illegal parking and dangerous driving. Huzzah!
The California DMV released its 2020 Disengagement Report this week. Note: This report only shares data from California, and is thus not representative of each company’s broader testing efforts. The spark notes version is this:
Waymo and Cruise improved their metrics in terms of disengagements per number of miles driven;
Waymo's total miles driven fell, due to the pandemic, while Cruise doubled the number of miles its vehicles went before a disengagement;
Apple drove just 18,805 miles for the year (down from its peak in 2018 of 80,000 miles, but double its 2019 efforts of 7,544 miles).
A lot of talk back and worth this week about if Apple is actually partnering Hyundai and Kia to develop AVs. The latest is that this partnership is not in the works, but only time will truly tell if a partnership comes to fruition.
Argo AI says its vehicles are now driving on highways just outside of Pittsburgh, with the intention to begin testing in more cities soon.
Microsoft is expanding their involvement with auto OEMs, this time with Volkswagen. Similar to their partnership with Cruise, Microsoft will leverage their Azure cloud computing platform to create an Automated Driving Platform (ADP) for VW.
There’s a lot of big numbers and commitments being thrown around these days, from GM’s pursuit of a fully electric fleet, to Ford’s $29B investment in electric and autonomous vehicles. Meanwhile, I am still dreaming of the day cities are given budgets of this grandiose size to implement actual solutions to our transportation challenges 🙃
Vietnam's first domestic auto OEM, Vinfast, has obtained a permit to test AVs on public roads in California. So far, Vinfast has developed three models with autonomous features, with the intention to sell these vehicles in the U.S., Canada and Europe beginning in 2022.
Filed under: very interesting partnership which I am personally skeptical of.
BP has enlisted the help of Oxbotica to help monitor operations at one of their refineries in Lingen. The initial trial just wrapped up, and the vehicle on site travelled over 180km fully autonomously, navigating the refinery including busy junctions, narrow paths, railway crossings, and multiple terrains, day and night. The intention behind the trial? That the vehicles’ enhanced analytics will help the site reduce the size of its current fleet.
Pony.ai has raised $100 million in an extension of its series C round. The funds bring the company’s total raised to over $1 billion, with a valuation of $5.3 billion, up from $3 billion as of February 2020.
Baidu’s Apollo unit is bringing over 40 autonomous vehicles to the roads of Guangzhou, with a fleet composed of five different vehicle models. The launch includes over 50 pickup stations (think bus stops) in the district, providing users with easy access to the AVs. Launching alongside the Lunar New Year, Baidus’s “Robobus” will ferry passengers along fixed routes, facilitating community travels towards festive destinations. Going forward, Baidu is expected to deploy over 100 vehicles and establish almost 1,000 pickup stations in Guangzhou.
Toyota is partnering with AV startup Aurora and auto part supplier Denso to develop a fleet of AVs for ride-hailing, with the first vehicle supposedly hitting the road by the end of this year. Denso isn’t really a household name, but it is one of the largest auto parts suppliers in the world, so Aurora is officially partnering up with two fairly mature leaders in their fields.
Research and Academia
New research examines Kuala Lumpur’s Transit Oriented Developments (TODs), and how the public’s expectation of this model of urban planning is realized (or not). The researchers examine various factors including: affordability, quality of the public transport system, pedestrian amenities.
Harrowing research released this week demonstrates how air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for 8.7m deaths globally in 2018. That equates to a staggering one in five of all people who died that year. The research finds that “countries with the most prodigious consumption of fossil fuels to power factories, homes and vehicles are suffering the highest death tolls,” with more than one in 10 deaths in both the US and Europe caused by the resulting pollution.
“The truth is very simple: If we continue to design our communities and transportation systems to require more driving alone, even if it’s in an electric car, it makes decarbonization far harder… Even under the most ambitious EV adoption scenarios, we must still reduce driving. And while 2020 saw a Covid-induced drop in VMT, SUV sales continue to climb, and so too will VMT.”
After Hyundai majorly invested in Boston Dynamics late last year, the auto OEM has been investing heavily in new technology with a string of partnerships, acquisitions and investments within the tech space.
"With the automotive industry getting more dynamic day by day due to the fast technological advancements, companies need to transform their business strategies to secure their position in the future mobility era. Hyundai seems to be well on track in this direction."
Extra Bits + Bobs
The Eno Center for Transportation is now accepting applications for its Summer 2021 Transportation Policy Fellowship. Applications are due March 12th!
Andrew Salzberg explores in his bi-monthly-ish newsletter if AVs can support decarbonizaition. His hot take? “In most of those plans, AVs actually make decarbonization harder; by making travel more convenient, they increase the amount people travel.”
LSE Cities is hosting a webinar about Queer Planning on March 4th. This talk will draw from archival, qualitative and quantitative research to assess changes in the way LGBTQ+ communities have featured in London’s governance, from the final days of the Greater London Council in the 1980s to today.
That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend friends.