Autonomous Vehicles
June 11, 2019

Will Amazon’s Scout Robot get a Free Ride on City Sidewalks and Streets?

It really is astounding at how we can so easily erase the need for basic pedestrian amenity when new technology rolls around. Even the people at Amazon did not see the obvious usurping of the sidewalk by their six wheeled  sidewalk delivery robot as being a problem. You can see in the video below as “Scout” (yes they named him) dutifully takes up most of the sidewalk as he rolls on his route. There is no space left over for a pedestrian, a baby buggy or a user of any mobility device.

But now Amazon as reported in the Business Insider wants pedestrians to know that not only do they need to give way for these robots on narrow sidewalks, but “that the public should treat these robots in the same way that they would pedestrians.”. 

Yes you heard that right. The sidewalk delivery robots want to have the same rights and the same rules of the road as do pedestrians, and also will use the road only if a pedestrian would do the same with a level of comfort.

Sean Scott of Amazon states “If you feel safe walking on that road, that’s where we want to be. We want to be viewed as a pedestrian and treated as a pedestrian.”

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From, Sweden is experimenting with a road surface that actually recharges electric cars as they drive the highway. A one mile section of road in Gotland will be rebuilt with charging panels at a cost of 12.5 million dollars. If the trial is successful, Sweden plans to build more than 1,200 miles of this recharging road in the near future. You can find out more information and view a video on this project here.

And here is a video that describes the technology and its potential application in France.

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Seattle’s Crosscut columnist Knute Berger thinks it might be – in this piece: Is Seattle freeing itself from the automobile age?

In South Lake Union, you see folks zipping along on monowheels, hoverboards and electric bikes and scooters. These electronic gadgets seem less intrusive and more versatile than, say, a Segway, and some can be carried by hand or in a backpack.

Other innovations are in the works. Boeing is testing a pilot-less “autonomous” air taxi — a kind of flying Uber. Is the era of the flying car, as envisioned on The Jetsons, finally at hand? In Snohomish County, Amazon is testing a small delivery bot, named Scout, that can bring Amazon Prime customers their order. It looks like a robotic cooler on six wheels. It could someday be more efficient than fleets of street-clogging delivery cars and trucks.

The quest for car-free city living is speeding up, not slowing down. Seattle was reshaped and improved by a technology that arrived as a circus toy. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the driverless novelties that might be flying overhead or rolling along the sidewalk to deliver goodies in your neighborhood.

Of course, ‘careful what you wish for.’

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It is the question to ask at the City Program’s Simon Fraser University seminar with Autonomous Vehicle expert Tim Papandreou and the question I did ask Ole Thorson of the International Federation of Pedestrians. 

When an autonomous vehicle is going to crash into a crowd of pedestrians, who does the car save? Does it save the vehicle occupants first? And who makes that decision?

Caroline Lester asks that question in The New Yorker. While a “level four” autonomous vehicle is independent on highways, it still needs a human to guide it. “Level five” vehicles will make their own judgements, including  the decision cited in what is called “The Trolley Problem”.

“If a car detects a sudden obstacle—say, a jackknifed truck—should it hit the truck and kill its own driver, or should it swerve onto a crowded sidewalk and kill pedestrians? A human driver might react randomly (if she has time to react at all), but the response of an autonomous vehicle would have to be programmed ahead of time. What should we tell the car to do?”

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The Future of Mobility Speaker Series: Tim Papandreou

The transportation sector is about to experience its biggest shake-up since the combustion engine replaced the horse and carriage. Electrification, automation and the sharing economy are converging to change the modes we use to move and the services we expect.

Explore this transformation with Tim Papandreou, the leading global expert in the future of mobility and automation who led strategic partnerships to commercialize Waymo and launch the world’s first fully self-driving ride-hailing service.

The City of Vancouver and City of Surrey will also take the stage to talk about their joint Smart Cities Challenge proposal.

Following his presentation, Tim will be joined on stage for a moderated Q&A with Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.


Thursday, Jan 24

6 pm

SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings, Room 1400

This event is free but registration is required due to limited seating available. Save your spot.

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There are some pretty troublesome trends that are in a parallel universe to the direction that cities are heading. While towns and places are encouraging walking and cycling to enhance retail bottom line and to make citizens healthier and more connected, the automotive industry is involved in their last private ownership/carbon gasp. That involves trucks and SUV’s, colossal rolling living rooms insulating occupants from the surrounding landscape, and splashy new items just unveiled in Las Vegas. reports on the trend of  vehicles becoming “a display centred world”. Part of that trend shows screens  expanding on car dashboards including one that is 48 inches (1.22m) long in the Byton M-Byte car.

“Besides the center console, instrument clusters, which house driving controls, and rear-seat entertainment displays are both growing in size. Automakers like Audi (VOWG_p.DE) that combine the center console and instrument cluster often refer to a “cockpit,” necessitating a wide, sweeping screen, like Byton’s, and more consolidated computing power.”

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A few years ago autonomous vehicles (AV’s)  were being hailed as a technology that was transformative and coming very soon. Driverless vehicles provide a solution to the pesky problem of what to do with seniors who should not be driving, and suggested an orderly way to keep vehicles moving efficiently in cities. But the downside has started to become evident, including how to deal with the ethics of a car created to save its occupants ahead of more vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. And what to do and who to blame if an autonomous vehicle kills a vulnerable road user? While the technology has apparently driven a vehicle across the United States, it has not advanced enough to deal with the intricacies and complexities of city driving.

Chandler Arizona was one of the “lucky” places where autonomous vehicle trials by Google’s Waymo first commenced, but there have now been over twenty attacks on these vehicles. From tire slashing, stone throwing, to braking in front of these vehicles and trying to run them off the road, local citizens are expressing their doubts and fears about the technology. I have written about the “edge cases” and how the killing of a lady in Tempe Arizona walking her bike across a highway exemplifies the situations where the technology could not ascertain the vehicle needed to stop.

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Sometimes it is not so much what people boast about but what they do not say that gives you a good insight in how a new technology is developing. And as reported in Digital Trends Anthony Levandowski, has made a startling claim. Mr. Levandowski who was fired from Uber over allegedly stolen intellectual property started his own self driving technology firm, Pronto.

Stating he wanted to build the best self -driving vehicle in the world he set out to create the best software. With that software Levandowski claims he sent a Toyota Prius driving from San Francisco to New York City without a human touching any of the controls.

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PT commenter Geof put up a response to this post that’s worthy of bringing forward – mainly because he nails an issue that isn’t getting enough attention: what will happen to our streets if we priorize the needs of autonomous vehicles.

I have said before that I don’t think self-driving cars will work in mixed urban traffic unless roads and rules are changed to keep pedestrians, cyclists, and so forth out of the way. There has already been a proposal that pedestrians should be required to wear beacons to avoid being killed by self-driving cars.

I am certain that if the AIs are actually safe, pedestrians and others (call them “road trolls”, even though I would consider them heroes) will fool them, slowing them down substantially, leading right back to separate ’em, tag ’em, or ban ’em policies aimed at everyone not encased in a tonne of steel.

Woz doesn’t buy the hype either:

‘It may only be one man’s hot take on the issue but Steve is a tech icon and likely someone others will listen to, despite his not being an expert on autonomous systems. . . .  the brunt of Wozniak’s ire seemed to be targeted at Tesla’s AV program. “Tesla makes so many mistakes,” he said. “It really convinces me that auto piloting and auto steering car driving itself is not going to happen.”’

I do think that self-driving vehicles will do fine on segregated highways, despite their current habit of accelerating into stopped vehicles. Self-driving BRT might be possible too. I don’t think making trucks and buses more like trains is the revolution people are anticipating.

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As Transportation Service Providers (TSPs) provide a suite of options in the form of a service contract, rather like telecommunication providers do now, there will be less and less need for individually owned cars.  And it’s also the way that automated, even autonomous, vehicles are likely to be introduced: a fleet of AVs that the consumer has access to, rather than an individually assigned car.  In other words, the way car-sharing works today.

How fast will that happen?  How soon will the self-owned vehicle be rare or even obsolete?

How about in 10 years?

That’s what one presenter at a transportation conference last week predicted.

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