Amazon is acquiring driverless start-up Zoox

Amazon recently announced it is acquiring the self-driving technology company Zoox, which is developing an autonomous driving system, including vehicles, for the purpose of providing a ride-hailing service. The Zoox vehicle is specifically designed to overcome the challenges of autonomous mobility. It seeks to be autonomous in complex environments, both in cites and highways. The vehicle is bidirectional (both ends can be the front and the back) which is particularly useful for urban trips.

Zoox’s ground-up vehicle focuses on the ride-hailing customer. According to the agreement, the overall mission of the company will remain the same. This could open a whole new market to Amazon once the autonomous driving technology is sufficiently mature for the transportation of people.

However,  some industry analysts think Amazon’s plan is to repurpose the Zoox vehicle for its core business, delivering packages to shoppers.  According to analysts, Amazon could be interested in converting the vehicles into mobile lockers that would stop at delivery sites where customers would pick up the packages. This could serve as an alternative or complement to its existing fleet of delivery vans. Autonomous delivery would fit with Amazon’s plans to deliver more of its packages on its own and to rely less on other delivery services. However, these plans were not confirmed by Amazon.

This is not the first time Amazon invests in self-driving technology. Early in 2019, it joined other investors to support Aurora Innovation, which recently focused on the development of a  self-driving system for heavy trucks. The giant retailing company has also previously used autonomous technology such as self-driving robots in its distribution centers. In 2019, the company ran a pilot on autonomous delivery in the Seattle metropolitan area with small fully electric vehicles. It is  also working on self-piloted drones to deliver small goods to customers’ homes.

The acquisiton of Zoox changes the landscape in the autonomous vehicle business, putting Amazon in competition with Google’s self-driving technology spinoff Waymo, and General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle unit, and increasing the pressure on smaller companies that are building delivery vehicles.

More information: https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-06-26/amazon-zoox-autonomous-ride-hailing

The demand for automated vehicles: A synthesis of willingness-to-pay surveys

Everybody is looking forward to the benefits connected and automated vehicles are expected to bring in terms of less congestion, fewer accidents and less pollution. But will people buy these vehicles? A lot of people love driving and would not want to give it up.

Studies of how much more people are willing to pay for an automated car, compared to a manual car, suggest that there will be a market for automated cars. For an analysis of these studies see: The demand for automated vehicles: A synthesis of willingness-to-pay surveys. Written by Rune Elvik, Institute of Transport Economics.

Watch the second LEVITATE webinar!

What impacts connected and automated driving will have on urban transport, in our local context? Find out!

The second LEVITATE webinar on 11 June was organized around the theme of urban transport and the impacts of automation on local level, brought by two city and transport authority representatives as well as the work package leader (National Technical University of Athens) on urban transport sharing their views.

The webinar was kicked off by Anna Craciun, project lead on LEVITATE at Transport for Greater Manchester, who presented Manchester’s transport vision, CAVs policy and need of innovations due to the COVID-19 crisis. Her colleague Hannah (ITS Engineer) gave an outlook about these future developments mentioning smart junctions and 5G network and video analytics in transport, which can facilitate the use of connected and automated vehicles in an urban context. They highlighted the importance of cooperation between local authorities in order to learn and get feedback from other cities’ experiences on innovations.

The second presentation was given by Professor George Yannis from the National Technical University of Athens who is the leader of the work package on urban transport in project LEVITATE. He presented the initial findings of their research on the specific impacts of automation in urban mobility, specifically on point-to-point shuttles and autonomous on demand shuttle services through impacts such as changes in CO2 emissions and delay time. The preliminary results are available in the recorded webinar. The main output of the project, the structure of the Policy Support Tool has been presented, as well.

Last, but not at least Michael Glotz-Richter from the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (and member of the Stakeholder Reference Group of the project) gave a mind-blowing presentation about the viewpoint of a municipality on automation in transport. He clearly stated that automation is already here with us more than we would think, giving examples from recent innovations. He also highlighted that operation of autonomous vehicles are more difficult in an urban context, as separation is a challenge in an existing infrastructure. Although, as 90% of road vehicles (replacing individual car ownership) can be replaced by operating autonomous vehicle services, more space is going to free up in our cities.

The webinar induced an active discussion between the audience and the presenters which can be listened to in the recorded webinar together with the above-mentioned presentations.

LEVITATE partner in the spotlight

Questions to Helmut Augustin, City of Vienna

Q: Please, introduce yourself shortly: what do you do in Vienna and what is your role in the LEVITATE project?

A: My name is Helmut Augustin. I hold a degree in Urban Planning. I have been working for the Vienna City Administration since 2004, currently in the Urban Planning Department, Section Mobility Strategies, as head of the Coordination Unit for Digitisation. I cover quite a big range of topics including (geo)data, quantitative analytics, data protection, Intelligent Transport Systems, Automated Driving and Geographical Information Systems.

Q: As a city partner, how do you contribute to project LEVITATE and why did you join the project?

A: I think the most important thing is that we bring in the perspective of a local government and a road authority. I think it is crucial to add this perspective to the discourse about CAVs (Connected and Automated Vehicles) which is otherwise quite industry-driven.

Q: What are Vienna’s views on and vision for connected and automated transport systems in an urban context?

A: We welcome CAVs if they are able to contribute to our smart city goals, in other words, they help us remain one of the most liveable cities. But our general approach is: Autonomous Vehicles must adapt to the needs of the city and its inhabitants, not the other way round.

An important point is how an automated transport system affects space consumption. Space is scarce in cities. It must be used as efficiently as possible. The most space-efficient and energy-efficient transport modes are by far walking, cycling and mass transit. There is an impressive picture by We Ride Australia which illustrates this. Therefore, we see CAVs as complementing, not competing with public transport. So, they should primarily operate in peripheral areas and between, not parallel to major axes of public transport, where current systems of public transport have weaknesses.

Another important point is compact settlement structures, including in rural areas, because CAVs might promote longer driving distances and consequently urban sprawl.

Q: What about safety?

A: This is primarily a topic for the national and European level. Our request is that CAVs must deal with conventional traffic participants, especially in mixed traffic with pedestrians and cyclists. Of course, CAVs must not expect vulnerable road users to be equipped with electronic safety devices.
CAVs shall only be permitted if proven to be significantly safer than human drivers.
CAVs must be safe on their own and responsible for their actions.

Q: Will automated driving require lots of new roadside infrastructure?

A: ITS roadside infrastructure might provide additional layers of safety. But CAVs must never rely primarily on ITS infrastructure, or they will be restricted to use specially equipped corridors only. Our position is that CAVs shall adapt to public spaces, not the other way round. They must be able to deal with the existing traffic guidance facilities.

I believe the possible shortcomings of CAVs at the current state of technical maturity should not be compensated by costly public roadside infrastructure. Rather this is a task for R&D units of automotive manufacturers. In this respect we need to ensure that international standardisation is not at the expense of those who maintain public roads.

Q: And what about dedicated lanes?

A: Cities have made great efforts in reducing barriers in urban space. They have constructed bridges, under- and overpasses, crosswalks and passageways. The goal is a walkable city and attractive public space.  Dedicated lanes, especially those with physical barriers, clearly do not comply with this strategy.

In contrast we can imagine that CAVs offer new opportunities for attractive public space and liveable streets. CAVs follow regulations, are supposed to be safe and eco-friendly. Thus, they might work a lot better in shared spaces than conventional cars currently do, once initial technical weaknesses are overcome.

Q: Will CAV change the way traffic management works?

A: Traffic Management is increasingly driven by algorithms and data. We must therefore increasingly target Navigation-Systems rather than human drivers. As data-based traffic management and decision support requires data, public authorities need access to this data, including in-vehicle generated data. Of course, we only require statistical, fully anonymized data.

My vision would be that dynamic and comprehensive incentive systems manage the traffic flow. Routing is based on the optimum for the whole system (rather than individual optima). System overloads can be detected in advance and minimized. And as already mentioned: AV services complement, not compete with public transport.

Q: When do you think automated transport systems are going to be widespread in urban areas?

A: This is really hard to answer. Let me ask more pertinent questions. The critical point is not when CAVs will arrive in urban areas. Rather the critical questions are: Will cities be ready in time? In which framework will CAVs operate then? Which rules will they follow?

Q: Will Vienna be ready in time for a future with CAVs?

A: We are working on that on different levels and aspects. One important contribution will come from the LEVITATE project. This should help us getting a deeper understanding of the effects different policy options might have.
So being optimistic, I would conclude, “yes, we will be ready in time!”.

Automated vehicles and COVID-19 – what we can learn from it

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the world nearly to a standstill. There has been a massive economic, social and welfare impact and the common factor is mobility. In LEVITATE, we are investigating the impacts of Connected and Automated Transport Systems (CATS) on our society. COVID-19 has been catastrophic event at world level, but we must learn from this tragedy and understand the implications for CATS era.

Urban Transport
The introduction of point to point, anywhere to anywhere or last-mile automated shuttle services maybe beneficial during a pandemic such as COVID-19 crisis. Highly automated shuttles (level 4 onwards) will remove the need for a driver and hence the risk of infection. Furthemore, a more frequent service may be offered, to accommodate the reduced passenger capacity of vehicles due to social distancing, without the growth in operational costs associated with the driver. In order to minimise the possibility of contamination and the spread of the virus, the supply of antiseptic materials for all users and workers, proper air conditioning and regular disinfection of the shuttles will need to be guaranteed.

Conversely, the reallocation of road space and modal priority, in favour of pedestrians and cyclists, could present a challenge to automated shuttles due to their cautious nature in the presence of these active modes whose movements are hard to predict by automated vehicle technology. This could significantly impact on the speed and overall efficiency of the shuttles, at least until the point where level 5 shuttles offering greater ‘intelligence’ than humans are mature and widely rolled out.

Passenger Transport
A personal passenger car that is manually driven in today’s scenario is no different to a personal automated passenger car in the future scenario. However, in a shared-car model, the vehicle could contribute to the spread COVID-19 if the vehicle is not thoroughly cleaned. Therefore, it will be paramount that the shared cars are cleaned regularly and that it is clear whose responsibility it is to keep the cars clean. It is probable that the shared-car usage will be discouraged in similar circumstances to COVID-19 and perhaps public behavior might shift towards active travel mode and personal car usage. More space allowed for active travel will increase car traffic as capacity for them is reduced. This could be mitigated by introducing staggered shift working pattern (perhaps even combine with alternate days) for those involved in less essential work that cannont be done by staying at home.

As mobility is restricted, there has been natural decline in traffic incidents, but it is arguable that crash severity would increase due to increased speeding. Automated vehicles without ability to alter the speeding behaviours, and associated to reckless driving, will benefit in minimising the safety impacts due to driving behavioural changes resulting from open roads.

Freight transport
During the COVID-19 crisis, major commercial facilities such as shops, markets, restaurants have either shut or people have stayed away due to the health risk. Therefore, demand in e-commerce or food delivery service has increased significantly. For example, Carrefour reported that the delivery of vegetables has increased by 600% during the lockdown period in China [1]. In addition, contactless delivery has become a standard or even requirement in many countries to protect delivery personnel and customers.

This overlaps with the main vision of future logistics concepts, which foresees the automated distribution of goods and even the handover process without human interaction. However, contactless handover requires infrastructure, for example the current state-of-the-art foresees physical internet boxes (supplier side) or white label parcel boxes (customer side). During the COVID-19 crisis, contactless delivery has been performed without either of these. Currently, most people are at home and therefore, the now applied procedure to place the goods in front of the customer’s door, ringing the bell, and walking away works well and (small) failures are accepted by the vendor.

Although the current lockdown and curfew will finally come to an end soon, we are aware that pandemics such as COVID-19 may strike the globe again. Therefore, further developments with respect to automated contactless handover technologies must go on. For a full rollout of automated delivery, we do not know yet who will win the race: automated handover infrastructure or level 5 automated transport. In the end, both will be necessary for automated delivery of goods.

[1] Campaign. COVID-19 media and consumption impacts in China: By the numbers. Retrieved online on 2020-04-28: https://www.campaignasia.com/article/covid-19-media-and-consumption-impacts-in-china-by-the-numbers/458225.

 

 

 

 

Watch first webinar: the future impacts of automation in freight transport

Will freight transport and logistics become safer, more effective or integrated as a result of automated technologies on the market? Find out by watching the first LEVITATE webinar!

The first LEVITATE webinar on 23 April was framed around the opportunities and challenges that freight transport is facing as a result of innovations in automated technologies. Looking at the current situation we are living in, discussions were also focused around the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the sector. Furthermore, expected changes in the implementation and operation of freight and logistics systems in the post-COVID times were on the table.

The webinar was kicked off by Pete Thomas, project coordinator of LEVITATE, who gave a brief introduction about the project. It was followed by a LEVITATE-focused presentation from Bin Hu, Scientist at the Austrian Institute of Technology, who is leading the freight-related use case in the project. He presented about the impact of automation on urban parcel delivery through the results of micro-simulations and operations research carried out in the framework of the project.

Thanks to Fernando Liesa, Secretary General of ALICE (Alliance for Logistics Innovation through Collaboration in Europe), attendees learnt about the work of ALICE and how they help European logistical companies to keep up with developments and new strategies through collaboration and knowledge-sharing. The main research question which has been answered was how automation can help freight transport and logistics to reach zero-emission targets by 2050 and become more integrated on a European level. Fernando also pointed out some new challenges in the face of COVID-19 in relation to protecting vehicle drivers and riders during the pandemic by using automated technologies.

Last but not at least, Kris Neyens, Manager at VIL (Flemish Innovation Cluster for Logistics) presented one of their own projects after introducing their multidisciplinary collaboration in the Flemish freight sector. In project ALEES (self-driving logistical electric units for urban environments), VIL is testing autonomous urban logistical entities to distribute parcels throughout dense urban areas, for example through a demonstration in Mechelen to develop the software behind the technology and create the legislative environment for future operation. If you are curious about the previously mentioned project, you can read more here or we welcome you to watch the presentation during the recorded webinar below.

LEVITATE in TRB annual meeting 2020

Perhaps the biggest transportation research conference in the world – TRB – took place this year from the 11th to 16th of January 2020. LEVITATE could not be missing from this prestigious event, and this year, the project was represented by several members: Dr Alkis Papadoulis, Prof Pete Thomas and Prof Mohammed Quddus from Loughborough University, Dr Jordi Casas from Aimsun and Prof Eleni Vlahogianni from National Technical University of Athens. As expected, Connected and Automated Transport Systems were one of the themes that dominated the agenda of the conference as they have been the research focus of industry and academia for the last few years.

TRB is always an excellent opportunity for European and International projects to interact with each other and attempt to learn from each other’s research. The members of LEVITATE, attended lectern sessions where several CATS-related projects were presented (Co-Exist, HumanDrive among others), and the following conclusions were drawn.

  1. Connected and Automated Driving data are starting to emerge. Microsimulation software companies are starting to develop their “autonomous” vehicle algorithms based on this data and several studies are starting to employ these models in order to evaluate the impact of Connected and Automated Vehicles in simple road network layouts. These studies could potentially be very useful for Levitate, as they can provide a basis of comparison for the results of Levitate and they can provide useful guidelines regarding the configuration of driving models in order to simulate connectivity and automation.
  2. The definition of Connected and Automated Vehicles in simulation terms hasCa not advanced significantly during the last few years. This is where Levitate will aim to contribute by defining new CAV behaviours that will emerge due to the sub-use cases so cities can evaluate them in the Policy support tool.
  3. The transferability of results is still an on-going and sensitive topic for simulation-related projects as simulation models are location specific and models must be individually tailored for each different city of interest.

Additionally, LEVITATE’s most recent piece of simulation work on parking pricing policies in the Connected and Automated Vehicle era was presented in the Freeway and CAV Simulation subcommittee. The session was well attended from experts of the field and the members of the project received very useful feedback that will help strengthen the sub-use case work in the future.

The project is looking forward to attending more meetings in Europe and worldwide in order to exchange opinions and thoughts about its methods and assumptions.

VIDEO: LEVITATE project introduction

Pete Thomas, Project Coordinator, and project partners from the National Technical University of Athens and the University of Michigan express their views on the LEVITATE project during the second Consortium meeting in The Hague.

Have a look at the video:

2nd Stakeholder Reference Group workshop takes place in Brussels

The LEVITATE Stakeholder Reference Group met for the second time in the project’s lifetime for a workshop held on 26 November in Brussels. 37 people from across Europe, including many representatives of local and regional government, took part. The workshop provided an overview of the mechanics of the launch of the developing Policy Support Tool, which will be one of the main outputs of the project and is being  established to enable policy makers and planners to run their own assessment of the potential impact of connected and automated transport systems in their city or region and across several transport policy domains.. Valuable insights were collected on how to further develop this tool.

The aim of LEVITATE’s Policy Support Tool (PST) is to help public authorities predict the impact of connected and automated transport systems (CATS) and identify policy interventions to help achieve certain long-term mobility goals and/or to mitigate the potential negative effects of vehicle automation. A variety of stakeholders attended the meeting: local and regional authorities, national authorities, national road operators and researchers.

The workshop opened with an introduction by Suzanne Hoadley (Polis) on the vision of Polis on automation and other European projects related to automation, followed by Pete Thomas (Loughborough University), who introduced the LEVITATE project, its objectives and the aim of the workshop.

The first session focused on giving an overview of  the Policy Support Tool (PST): its components, what it can and cannot do, what input will be required and what the output might look like. George Yannis (National Technical University of Athens) demonstrated how the tool could work in the future, based on different assessment methods. He also presented one practical case to illustrate the tool’s expected functioning, doing so in a step by step process.

The different CATS impact areas were presented by Rune Elvik (Institute of Transport Economics), followed by an explanation of why they were selected (for more information on the impacts of CATS you can consult this report). Wolfgang Ponweiser (Austrian Institute of Technology) gave an overview of the CATS policy interventions (related to urban transport, economic incentives, access and space allocation). He introduced the backcasting method as a tool to predict the impacts of CATS, highlighting that backcasting starts with the city’s vision – the targets cities want to achieve.

After these presentations, the participants broke up into four smaller groups to discuss the PST and the backcasting methodology. Participants gave their views on the PST structure that had been presented, its usability and the functionalities it should have, and reflected on the reasons why they would use it. The challenges that could be faced during the development of the PST were also discussed, and some ideas on how it could be improved arose. During the discussion, participants also provided insights about the policy interventions they considered to be the most relevant.

Their feedback was collected by the project partners, who closed the session by reflecting on the main conclusions of the workshop and laying out the next steps for the LEVITATE project.

LEVITATE partner in the spotlight

Questions to Anna Craciun, Transport for Greater Manchester

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is the local government body responsible for delivering Greater Manchester’s transport strategy and commitments. TfGM is committed to leading change and supporting the 10 Local Authorities within Greater Manchester with the implementation of new technology and mobility solutions underpinned by our 2040 Transport Vision and Innovation Strategies. Anna Craciun is TfGM’s lead on  project Synergy and project LEVITATE which have become the foundation for TfGM’s developing Policy and Deployment Strategy for autonomous vehicles.

Q: As a city partner, how do you contribute to project LEVITATE and why did you join the project?

A: Innovation is imperative for the transport sector and TfGM have built a long term portfolio of forward-thinking pilots and projects, including LEVITATE, which are aligned with our 2040 Transport Vision. Project LEVITATE enables TfGM to respond to the fast-paced autonomous mobility sector with robust resources like the Policy Support Tool being developed by the LEVITATE consortium.

Q: What are TfGM’s views on and vision for connected and automated transport systems?

A: The future of commercial automated transport services and their operation in complex urban environments is still uncertain and TfGM, like others, is not in a position to predict this. Instead we can create robust strategies to ensure Greater Manchester becomes a hub for innovation. Extensive collaboration with a myriad of UK and international partners such as the Depart for Transport, the Law Commission, UITP and POLIS has allowed us to develop a set of “guiding principles for automated transport” that will ensure autonomous vehicles emerge in line with our wider vision for Greater Manchester.

TfGM are also supporting the work University of Salford are carrying out as part of their Automotive and Autonomous Vehicle Technology Course that launched in September 2018. This is a great step towards strengthening the labour market in Manchester and strengthens the links with our academic partner in finding new solutions for cyber security and traffic control through live testing and behavioural analysis.

Q: How and in which context are you planning to use the Policy Support Tool? In which way will it be useful for a city in general?

A: Being part of the LEVITATE project has enabled TfGM to input into the development of the PST. This will ultimately allow us to validate the tool and align its outcomes to our 2040 Transport Strategy and our emerging Greater Manchester Policy and Deployment Strategy for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

The PST will be a fantastic way for local authorities to consider how they can futureproof their infrastructure, data governance and local policies so that CAV services will be able to operate on their roads and seamlessly travel across district, and even regional boundaries. The tool could also provide a pathway to implementation of the Regional Strategic Principles as it would highlight any shortfalls that different authorities will need to overcome to ensure they are CAV-ready.

Q: When do you think automated transport systems are going to be widespread in urban areas? How do you see this evolution in a short, middle and long timeframe?

A: The driving force (excuse the pun) behind the technology is not the same as that behind public regulation, therefore estimating a timeline for market penetration and uptake in usage/ownership could misinform decision makers. Instead, governing bodies should direct their efforts towards upskilling their staff on new legislation such as GDPR and towards considering what this might mean for new modes of mobility.

CAVs are already being tested in managed and mixed-traffic environments as part of trials and are operating in segregated environments such as university campuses, however, to gain a broader vote of confidence, legal and ethical frameworks must be established at the national and sub-national level so that manufacturers and operators have cohesive guidelines to adhere to.

In the short term, I think the focus may be on connected (and not necessarily autonomous) vehicles, harnessing the benefits this can bring in terms of the data they will generate.

Q: In your opinion, what role should a transport authority, like TfGM, play in relation to the development and deployment of CAVs?

A: TfGM, like other transport authorities, is already engaged in a series of activities relating to the testing, development and deployment of CAVs. I think what makes us stand out is that we are developing our strategy alongside project partners, district colleagues, public and private stakeholders and Greater Manchester Residents.

In October we held our first Citizen’s Conversation on Driverless Mobility. This was a full day workshop with almost 100 residents from across Greater Manchester that allowed us to share the work we have completed so far, ask for advice on which use-cases we should focus on and understand the work we still need to undertake.

Our role, as a transport authority, is to continue this sort of work; first identifying what our resident’s priorities and needs are, and then looking to innovations like CAVs to see how they can be deployed in a way that addresses these priorities.

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For more information email to: innovation@tfgm.com or anna.craciun@tfgm.com