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Autonomous Vehicles Will Change Urban Areas

June 26, 2017 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Autonomous Vehicles Will Change Urban Areas
Volvo S60 with pedestrian detection at the Chicago Auto Show

The auto industry is quickly moving toward full self0-driving cars. The impact on cities, including St. Louis, could be huge. You might be thinking it is a decade or more away, but earlier this month GM announced a a major accompaniment.

General Motors said Tuesday it has finished making 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt test vehicles, an achievement that the automaker says will help put it at the forefront of the race to develop and deploy autonomous cars.

CEO and Chairman Mary Barra said GM is the only automaker currently capable of mass-producing self-driving vehicles. (USA Today)

Other automakers. and tech giants like Alphabet (Google), Apple, etc are all racing to be first and/or the best.  Honda, for example, outlined its timeline earlier this month:

Honda has been one of the more cautious automakers when it comes to self-driving cars, and a recent study put the company at 15th out of 18 in terms of overall advancement. At a media event this week, however, Honda shared more about its plans and set a target of 2025 for introducing vehicles with Level 4 autonomous driving capability. 

Honda has already said that it intends to have vehicles capable of Level 3 freeway driving on the market by 2020, and is reiterating that goal today. Level 3, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, refers to highly automated driving where the driver still needs to be able to take over the vehicle upon request. Level 4 automation means that the car is capable of handing most driving situations itself, whereas Level 5 is largely theoretical and covers complete automation in any condition. (The Verge)

Level 4?  We’re not going to go from fully human-controlled cars to full self-driving overnight.

  • Level 0: This one is pretty basic. The driver (human) controls it all: steering, brakes, throttle, power. It’s what you’ve been doing all along.
  • Level 1: This driver-assistance level means that most functions are still controlled by the driver, but a specific function (like steering or accelerating) can be done automatically by the car.
  • Level 2: In level 2, at least one driver assistance system of “both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment” is automated, like cruise control and lane-centering. It means that the “driver is disengaged from physically operating the vehicle by having his or her hands off the steering wheel AND foot off pedal at the same time,” according to the SAE. The driver must still always be ready to take control of the vehicle, however. 
  • Level 3: Drivers are still necessary in level 3 cars, but are able to completely shift “safety-critical functions” to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions. It means that the driver is still present and will intervene if necessary, but is not required to monitor the situation in the same way it does for the previous levels. Jim McBride, autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said this is “the biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4.” He’s focused on getting Ford straight to Level 4, since Level 3, which involves transferring control from car to human, can often pose difficulties. “We’re not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that’s not a fair proposition,” McBride said.
  • Level 4: This is what is meant by “fully autonomous.” Level 4 vehicles are “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.” However, it’s important to note that this is limited to the “operational design domain (ODD)” of the vehicle—meaning it does not cover every driving scenario.
  • Level 5: This refers to a fully-autonomous system that expects the vehicle’s performance to equal that of a human driver, in every driving scenario—including extreme environments like dirt roads that are unlikely to be navigated by driverless vehicles in the near future. (Tech Republic)

A study released in April says Ford is leading others in the race to produce autonomous vehicles.

When will this happen? From May:

When will I be able to buy an autonomous car?
That’s not an easy question to answer because it’s not yet clear how the technology will come to market. It’s likely that most automakers will be able to build Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2021 or so, if not before — but the first Level 4 vehicles may be very expensive, and they may be offered only to fleet customers (like Uber or Lyft).

That said, it’s likely that one or more automakers (Tesla, perhaps others) will offer Level 4 technology to retail customers at some point in the next few years. But no automaker (or software company) has announced a firm date yet. (Motley Fool)

Many, including automakers, expect a shift from owning a car to using a ride share service. The coming changes will be massive, below are some thoughts from 50 Mind-Blowing Implications of Self-Driving Cars (and Trucks):

  • 1) People won’t own their own cars. Transport will delivered as a service from companies who own fleets of self-driving vehicles. There are so many technical, economic, safety advantages to the transportation-as-a-service that this change may come much faster than most people expect
  • 6) There won’t be any parking lots or parking spaces on roads or in buildings. Garages will be repurposed?—?maybe as mini loading docks for people and deliveries. Aesthetics of homes and commercial buildings will change as parking lots and spaces go away
  • 24) Cities will become much more dense as fewer roads and vehicles will be needed and transport will be cheaper and more available. The “walkable city” will continue to be more desirable as walking and biking become easier and more commonplace.
  • 29) Cities, towns and police forces will lose revenue from traffic tickets, tolls (likely replaced, if not eliminated) and fuel tax revenues drop precipitously. These will probably be replaced by new taxes (probably on vehicle miles). These may become a major political hot-button issue differentiating parties as there will probably be a range of regressive versus progressive tax models
  • 40) Many roads and bridges will be privatized as a small number of companies control most transport and make deals with municipalities. Over time, government may entirely stop funding roads, bridges and tunnels.
  • 41) Innovators will come along with many awesome uses for driveways and garages that no longer contain cars. There will be a new network of clean, safe, pay-to-use restrooms that become part of the value-add of competing service providers.

What does all this potentially mean for St. Louis? Fewer privately owned cars means on-street parking and parking garages will have increasing vacancy. Less revenue from meters and parking tickets. Privately-ownewd garages will no longer be profitable — unless leased to a fleet operator. Enterprise already owns the garage attached to Mansion House, Gentry’s Landing, and hotel.

Some jobs will see less demand and eventually go away. Parking enforcement, for example. There will be less demand for gasoline but an increased demand to infill more densely. Will the city have the funds to narrow roads, improve infrastructure to work with autonomous cars? Maybe, new residents might add enough to the tax base. Will St. Louis be one of many municipalities in St. Louis County by then or even be a big consolidated government?

Car dealerships, new & used, will begin to disappear. New houses, condos, etc won’t have garages as we know them. Existing garages may be converted into additional living space, perhaps a mother-in-law suite.    Oil change, tire shops, and auto repair will also see reduced demand until finally disappearing. Yes, autonomous vehicles will need tires but the fleet companies won’t run to the corner tire shop.

There are many more positive and negative implications of the transition to autonomous vehicles. The important thing to remember is it won’t happen overnight — but it’ll likely happen faster than many expect.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Design: Vehicle Headlights

June 19, 2017 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Design: Vehicle Headlights

As I indicated a few weeks ago when talking about the use of headlines, I promised future posts on the design of automotive lighting — headlights & taillights. No, this isn’t becoming an auto blog. Vehicles are a fact of life in urban areas. In fact, pedestrian deaths are on the increase. From March:

It’s the oldest and most basic form of transportation — walking — and more people are doing more of it to get fit or stay healthy. But there’s new evidence today that even walking across the street is getting more dangerous.

A report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic jumped 11 percent last year, to nearly 6,000. That’s the biggest single-year increase in pedestrian fatalities ever, and the highest number in more than two decades.

“It is alarming,” says GHSA executive director Jonathan Adkins, “and it’s counterintuitive.” (NPR)

In October 2015 the death rate was becoming a local issue, see: Rising number of pedestrian deaths has St. Louis officials concerned. Distracted driving and distracted pedestrians, of course, are partly to blame. A year ago the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) began testing vehicle headlights:

The ability to see the road ahead, along with any pedestrians, bicyclists or obstacles, is an obvious essential for drivers. However, government standards for headlights, based on laboratory tests, allow huge variation in the amount of illumination that headlights provide in actual on-road driving. With about half of traffic deaths occurring either in the dark or in dawn or dusk conditions, improved headlights have the potential to bring about substantial reductions in fatalities.

Recent advances in headlight technology make it a good time to focus on the issue. In many vehicles, high-intensity discharge (HID) or LED lamps have replaced halogen ones. Curve-adaptive headlights, which swivel according to steering input, are also becoming more widespread. (IIHS)

In the initial test only the Toyota Prius V got a good rating — out of 31 vehicles tested. Lighting didn’t improve with the price of the car.

By October 2016 IIHS released results of their truck headlight test:

Out of 11 pickup trucks (and 23 possible headlight combinations) tested, the Honda Ridgeline was the only one to earn a “Good” rating, the highest mark possible. One truck earned an “Acceptable” rating, a few were deemed “Marginal,” and a majority scored a “Poor” ratings.

As previously reported, IIHS headlight testing includes high- and low-beam performance on straight roads and curves. The tests also include glare toward oncoming traffic.

The IIHS tested all possible headlight combinations, which include halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, and LEDs. That said, the only truck to receive the institute’s highest mark was the Honda Ridgeline equipped with LED low-beam headlights–Ridgeline trucks with halogen units earned a “Poor” rating. (Motor Trend)

Regulation is important, but it must change and keep up. From last month:

Outdated federal rules have blocked automakers from introducing adaptive beam headlamps that automatically adjust to oncoming traffic to reduce glare and help drivers see better, even though the technology is legal and available in Europe and Japan. At the same time, sleek styling and manufacturing mistakes on currently available systems has led to poor performance on the road, including excessive glare and insufficient light on the pavement.

“Regulators have not done a lot to help this through inaction,” said Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering at national motor club AAA. “There’s technology available today that could potentially reduce some fatalities, and it would be simply a matter of regulation change to allow that in the U.S.”

Japanese automaker Toyota asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 to allow adaptive beam technology, which is already widely used in Europe and Japan, particularly in luxury vehicles. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents major automakers on Washington policy issues, backed the petition.But four years later, NHTSA hasn’t made a decision. (USA Today)

Here are some examples of how headlights have changed over the years.

This was my first of two 1986 Saab 900s, the last year US 900s had old fashioned sealed-beam headlights. 1987 900s got flush headlights — though different than thud on aurorean models.
This is a late 70s Volvo 242GT with a round sealed bram headlight.
This is the same model with a flush glass headlight.
I briefly owned a 1982/83 Right-hand Drive Volvo 240 that had flush glass headlights like these, though without the wipers. US models had 2 rectangular sealed beam units per side at the same time. The turn signals here are US spec — no more prominent amber color like the prior examples.
My first daily car with flush headlights was this 2000 VW Golf. Replacing a burn out bulb required a trip to the dealer service dept.

Later cars were easier to replace the bulb. Still, US headlights differ from models sold in other countries.  They get glass, we get plastics.

Most modern headlight lenses are made of clear and nearly unbreakable polycarbonate plastic or a similar material. The lenses are treated at the factory with a special coating that protects them from the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight, vehicle exhaust fumes and other environmental contaminants. In fact, to obtain government approval, plastic headlight assemblies must pass a three-year U.S. Department of Transportation durability test.

In normal use, the life of a headlight’s protective coating depends on the level of exposure to the hazards mentioned above – especially the amount and intensity of sunlight. AAA inspected a representative sample of used vehicles and determined that five years is the approximate timeframe in which visible deterioration of headlight lenses begins to appear. (AAA)

However, the quality/quantity of light is improving. From last week:

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported Tuesday that only two of the U.S. auto industry’s 37 mid-size sport-utility vehicles offer headlight packages with “good” performance.

Safety advocates warn that poor headlight performance, including incorrectly aimed beams and excessive glare, endangers motorists and pedestrians.

IIHS, which has been gradually testing the hundreds of models sold in the U.S., concluded that 11 models offer “poor” headlights, 12 fall in the “marginal” category and 12 are “acceptable.” The organization ranked 2017 models based on the best-available headlight package on each vehicle.

By comparison, 12 of the 21 small SUV models tested by IIHS in 2016 delivered “poor” performance, while only four were “acceptable.” (USA Today)

I’ll save recent headlights, daytime running lights, and front turn signals for a future post.

— Steve Patterson

 

Option: Minority Of Drivers Put Others At Risk By Not Using Headlights When Visibility Is Reduced.

June 7, 2017 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Option: Minority Of Drivers Put Others At Risk By Not Using Headlights When Visibility Is Reduced.
The latest Volvo’s have distinctive “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lights.

I got pulled over once for not having my headlights on when I should have. Years ago I bought a used Audi A4 where the dash lights were on if the car was on. Leaving a restaurant on South Grand my first night with the car I could see fine due to all the urban light pollution, but others couldn’t see me. A few cars before the Audi was a used Volvo that allowed me to leave the switch in the on position — the lights went on and off with the car.

Anyway, a longtime pet peeve of mine is people who don’t have their lights on when they should. I rarely drive now, just once or twice each weekend. Maybe a weeknight dinner out (will be on South Grand again tomorrow night for our 3rd wedding anniversary). Most drivers are good about using their lights, but 5-10% are not.

The non-scientific results of Sunday’s poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Drivers should turn on their headlights only when they have trouble seeing the road.

  • Strongly agree 0 [0%]
  • Agree 3 [7.89%]
  • Somewhat agree 0 [0%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree 0 [0%]
  • Disagree 12 [31.58%]
  • Strongly disagree 23 [60.53%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

All but 3 answered correctly. The 3 who agreed with the statement are wrong — they’re likely among those putting at risk by not turning on their lights when they should.

Most polls don’t get many comments on social media, but this one did. These comments on the Facebook post explain what I planned to explain today:

From Beverly B:

Headlights aren’t just for the driver to see the road, they’re for others to see you. I (barely) see untold numbers of headlight-less drivers at dusk, on cloudy days, and in other low light situations and to me, it’s dangerous. I habitually turn my headlights on when I start my car and I wish all cars were made so that they were always on when the engine is running.

Jacob S replied to the above comment:

Seconded! I was just about to comment along these same lines. I’m glad someone else already did! Headlights are extremely important for pedestrians to see cars! The fact that this topic is even up for debate (amongst society, not necessarily this page lol) is infuriating. As long as there are humans walking on this planet motor vehicles should always have to have headlights on at night and daytime running lights on during the day. It’s a safety issue. I wish Missouri police would step up their ticketing of people who aren’t using their lights during the night and when it’s raining (which is actually required by state law and is posted on every roadway upon entering the state).

Joe B wrote:

Back around 2002, Regina Walsh came knocking on my door asking for votes to become a Missouri Representative. She also asked if there was anything I’d like to see passed. With a resounding YES, I said a law to turn on all vehicle lights in rain, fog or snow. Imagine a tractor-trailer going down the middle lane of I-270. Now imagine that truck needs to get into the right hand lane for an upcoming exit ramp. Now imagine a GRAY CAR sitting next to that truck’s right side in the rain with NO LIGHTS ON. You want me to send you a private message with the original letter I typed up to be read in front of the Missouri Legislators? I will. I’m the one that started the ball rolling! Wake up people… Inclement weather hinders others vision from SEEING YOU unless you turn on your damn lights. Twenty years I drove without a single wreck or ticket. – end of rant.

David B quoted Missouri’s law:

RSMO 307.020:

(9) “When lighted lamps are required” means at any time from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise and at any other time when there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of five hundred feet ahead. Lighted lamps shall also be required any time the weather conditions require usage of the motor vehicle’s windshield wipers to operate the vehicle in a careful and prudent manner as defined in section 304.012. The provisions of this section shall be interpreted to require lighted lamps during periods of fog even if usage of the windshield wipers is not necessary to operate the vehicle in a careful and prudent manner.

The laws in all 50 states are similar, though they do vary. A total of 20 states, including Missouri, require headlights when wipers are in use. .

As usual. one missed the mark. Jim Z commented :

Daytime running lights (DRL’s) serve essentially the same purpose and are required in Canada, so GM chose to make them standard on their vehicles 20-some years ago. The upside is that they do make vehicles more visible from the front, but the downside is that they do nothing to make vehicles more visible from the rear. Given the spread of automatic headlamps, it’s amazing the number of vehicles I see driving around at night with just their DRL’s on and no tail lights. But the biggest offenders seem to be some bicyclists (and yes, they are vehicles) who ride at night, many times against traffic, with no lights, at all! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daytime_running_lamp

DRLs make cars more visible during the daytime when visibility isn’t reduced by clouds, rain, snow, etc. Automatic headlights? The used Corolla I nought in 2008 had them — they’d come on when I pulled into our parking garage or if it was very late out. I had to manually switch then on many times.

Back to comments on Facebook, Brian W used his wife’s vehicle as an example:

A lot of cars (like Diane’s new RAV4) that have automatic headlights are not calibrated low enough to activate when there’s rain or overcast conditions during the day. I still find myself having to manually activate the headlights.
I suspect many people don’t even know *how* to manually turn theirs on!

And DRL’s (and the always-illuminated dash) Are pox on humanity!!
I can’t even count the # of people I see driving with lights out at night because of these things!

If it were up to me all lights (front, rear, dash) would be on at all times. Short of that it wouldn’t be difficult for new cars to have lights come on when wipers are used. Once we all stop driving and use autonomous vehicles the issue of lighting will become moot. Until that time, it is relevant.

Automotive lighting is one of my favorite topics so future posts will address design and regulation.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: When Should Drivers Turn On Their Headlights?

June 4, 2017 Featured, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: When Should Drivers Turn On Their Headlights?
Please vote below

For more than a dozen years now this blog has been about issues that interest me, the things I experience as an urban dweller. Automotive lighting is one such area of interest — been thinking about future posts on headlight & taillight design.

Driving at night without headlights might sound extremely undesirable at the moment, but in the future, it might be the norm.

Luc Donckerwolke, head of design for Hyundai luxury offshoot Genesis, believes that headlights will soon be unnecessary. Talking to a group of Australian journalists, Donckerwolke said autonomy might negate the need for headlights in the future, since the cars won’t need to “see” the road ahead.

In fact, that reasoning is why the latest Genesis concept, the GV80 fuel-cell crossover, only has tiny little peepers up front. “All Genesis [cars] will have those quad lights eventually, but as you see we are reducing the size because we are anticipating the fact that, slowly, cars won’t need lights anymore,” Donckerwolke told Motoring.com.au. (CNET)

Future autonomous cars might not need headlights, but those driven by humans do. Today’s poll is related.

This poll will close at 8pm. On Wednesday I’ll discuss the issues surrounding headlight use and share the results.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Readers: Do Not Ease Future Emissions & Fuel Economy Regulations

May 3, 2017 Featured, Politics/Policy, Transportation Comments Off on Readers: Do Not Ease Future Emissions & Fuel Economy Regulations

Our vehicles are getting bigger, but they use less fuel than just a few years ago. How is this possible? Because of fuel economy regulations manufacturers are making cars lighter, engines more efficient.

Though cars shrank in the 70s & 80s, they’ve been growing again:

Technological progress in the automobile has come with certain tradeoffs, one being an increase in size. Perhaps cars have inflated in size to better fit their occupants. Anyone who’s ridden three across in the back seat of a 1990s compact knows what we’re talking about. Safety standards and packaging even more airbags into each car have also contributed to the growth of the modern automobile.

The EPA places cars into specific size classes from minicompact (less than 85 cubic feet) to large (120 or more cubic feet) based on the combination of passenger and cargo volume. In the interest of consistency, all volume figures quoted are from the EPA. (Motor Trend)

Our 2007 Honda Civic is a prime example. A new Civic has more interior volume yet has a higher fuel rating from the EPA:

In the last decade the Civic has grown from a subcompact to a midsize, yet the fuel economy has increased. Source: fuel economy.gov

The even larger 2017 Honda Accord has a higher EPA rating than our 10 year-old Civic. The “small” 2017 Honda Fit has more interior volume that our Civic — also more than a 1992 Accord!  Better fuel economy too — 22 combined for the ’92 Accord but 36 for the new Fit. Worldwide regulations have pushed manufacturers to make cars better.

 

In March President Trump expressed an interest in slowing down coming regulations:

Originally, regulators mandated that automakers achieve an average 54.5 mpg by 2025, but they relaxed that target to between 50.8 mpg and 52.6 mpg last year. Now, automakers will have more time to fight the standards, as the review process could take about a year.

The review is not set to impact California’s right to impose fuel economy rules that are stricter than federal standards, a White House official told Reuters. However, the official wouldn’t rule out the possibility of that changing in the future. (Motor Trend)

A proposed budget would render any review mute — from last month:

The Trump administration would virtually eliminate federal funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget for vehicle emissions and fuel economy testing but will seek to raise fees on industry to pay for some testing, a government document shows.

The cuts would slash by more than half the staff of the EPA department that conducts vehicle, engine, and fuel testing to verify emissions standards are met and mileage stickers are accurate. Its work helped lead to Volkswagen AG’s (VOWG_p.DE) 2015 admission that it violated vehicle emissions rules for years. (Reuters)

 

California isn’t backing down on emissions regulations to cut smog, from March:

California will move forward with vehicle pollution targets set forth by the Obama administration, despite a move by current President Donald Trump to put those targets on hold.

On Friday, the California Air Resources Board voted to uphold Obama’s stricter emissions rules for the state. It also established a target for 15 percent of new vehicles to be powered by battery, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid powertrains by 2025, up from about 3 percent today. The rules are part of CARB’s larger plan to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels by 2030. (Motor Trend)

Don’t be surprised if the Trump administration tries to take away California’s right to set their own auto emissions standards.

Most of those who voted in the most recent non-scientific Sunday Poll agree regulations shouldn’t be eased:

Q: Agree or disagree: With falling gas prices & buyer preference for bigger vehicles, upcoming stricter emissions/fuel economy regs should be relaxed

  • Strongly agree 2 [5.56%]
  • Agree 3 [8.33%]
  • Somewhat agree 0 [0%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1 [2.78%]
  • Disagree 4 [11.11%]
  • Strongly disagree 26 [72.22%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

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