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Autonomous Transit – From the Moon to Your Red Light

By now, everyone in Pittsburgh has probably witnessed autonomous vehicle testing on our local streets. At the beginning of the autonomous revolution, it was easy to focus solely on cars. According to Venture Beat, in 2019, five manufacturers tested 55 different autonomous vehicle models in Pittsburgh alone.

However, the development of autonomous transit systems is much more all-encompassing. Even the sky isn’t the limit. In Pittsburgh, we see autonomous transportation technology in everything from space exploration to intelligent traffic systems, including stoplights on our streets.

Let’s look at some of the unique applications and advancements Pittsburgh companies are testing and improving for autonomous transportation:

  • Astrobotic: In 2023, North Side’s Astrobotic expects their MoonRanger, an autonomous rover, to explore the lunar South Pole. According to Astrobotic’s website, “MoonRanger’s autonomy software will build 3D maps of the lunar surface and demonstrate long-range and communication-denied exploration. Using visual odometry with a stereo camera system and a sun sensor, the rover can independently orient itself on the lunar surface. Its mobility system will provide valuable insight on how lunar regolith (rocky material) affects small rover scale motors.”
  • Wabtec: Wabtec is developing technologies to enhance and improve effectiveness and efficiency in locomotive operations, and automation plays a significant role in their future technologies. In the fall of 2021, Wabtec signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Carnegie Mellon University to decarbonize freight rail and improve safety. The second focus, safety, will concentrate on advancements to current signaling systems and digital technologies to increase rail network capacity, utilization, and safety across the U.S. According to Farnam Jahanian, president of Carnegie Mellon University, “advances in digital technologies and artificial intelligence will revolutionize freight rail by driving dramatic improvements in safety and network capacity while simultaneously increasing efficiency across the nation’s supply chain.”
  • Locomation: Pittsburgh’s Locomation is an industry leader in autonomous trucking. In business since 2018, they have deployed autonomous relay convoys and freight optimization services, significantly and constantly improving freight delivery. With trucks delivering more than 70% of the nation’s freight, these developments promise to revolutionize freight delivery. In October 2020, Locomation announced that Wilson Logistics would equip at least 1,120 tractors with its groundbreaking Autonomous Relay Convoy technology. Also, in March, Locomation announced an eight-year agreement with Christenson Transportation, Inc., a top mid-sized transportation provider, to boost its fleet capacity with Locomation autonomous truck technology. During significant driver shortages, autonomous trucking advances offer solutions at a critical juncture.
  • Carnegie Mellon University: CMU’s Traffic21 Institute and Rapid Flow Technologies spent several years developing and deploying theSurtrac adaptive traffic signal control system, the market’s most advanced adaptive traffic signal system. The Surtrac adaptive traffic signal system is unique in optimizing traffic flows in complex, dynamic environments. During its initial Pittsburgh deployment from 2010 to 2016, at 50 intersections in multiple neighborhoods, Surtrac helped reduce travel time by 26%, the number of stops by 31%, wait time at intersections by 41% and emissions by 21%. The deployment has been so successful the city has plans to install another 100 to 200 adaptive control intersections as part of a federal funding program. Some of these new intersections are focused on unique traffic congestion issues, such as those associated with the city’s sports stadiums, concert venues and other entertainment complexes. Additionally, new Surtrac developments have optimized the system to incorporate multi-modal transit options.

Supporting the Future of Autonomous Transportation

There is no doubt Pittsburgh has quickly become ubiquitous with autonomous vehicle innovation — from affecting lunar research to meeting a labor shortage and freight delivery challenges to the time we wait at a traffic light. It is easy to see our vigorous research and development-heavy universities create an environment that is very attractive to autonomous industries.

Pittsburgh has cultivated a supportive environment that fosters innovation. This certainly includes the research and development universities fueling the talent to innovate. Other factors like cost of living and appealing wages are significant when it comes to quality of life.

However, the essential nuts and bolts must be present for this environment to succeed. Without safe and reliable fiber networks, delivering a payload to the moon or mitigating local traffic concerns is considerably more difficult. Ensuring high bandwidth, breakneck Internet speed and connectivity are critical factors in attracting and retaining talent and further developing and supporting autonomous industries. That means the need for a dedicated, secure, and reliable fiber network provider is essential.

DQE has invested heavily in our network and is fully equipped to support the local tech boom and rapid industry advancements. Best of all, we have a proven track record of partnering with emerging organizations from their beginnings and growing with them as they push the boundaries of autonomous vehicle technology. Contact us today!