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CES and partner panels illustrated the top trends in transportation. Trends include autonomous driving, trucking, mining and goods delivery. Autonomous hyperloop travel and the coming of electric vehicles were also hot topics.

Auto Futures reports on the latest tech trends from Caterpillar, Aurora, Virgin Hyperloop, Waymo, Volkswagen, Udelv, Ricardo Inc., GM and American Axle and Manufacturing (AAM).

Panellists in ‘Autonomous Transportation Moves Beyond the Vehicle’ led by Joann Muller, transportation correspondent for Axios, delved into the autonomous mining, trucking and hyperloops.

Karl Weiss, Vice President and CTO, Caterpillar Inc., says Caterpillar is the world leader in transportation mining and productivity. The company has been working on autonomous vehicles for thirty-years starting with the first DARPA of Challenge. The company supplies autonomous mining machinery.

The most important benefits of using autonomous equipment are productivity, safety and reducing waste, says Weiss.

With fewer people able to work during the pandemic Caterpillar is finding that the customers are becoming 30% more productive and that is a big win.

One of the most successful features from Caterpillar is remote operation.

A 60-year old construction worker when he was able to do remote work was able to continue his work says Weiss. There is a shortage of skilled workers. He says often remote operators start out working on only one machine and then they are able to work one or two machines at the same time.

Aurora’s most important autonomous first path to the market is commercial trucking due to a number of reasons including technical complexity and business opportunities, says Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli, Director of Partner Product and Programs, Aurora. She says Aurora’s mission is to deliver the benefits of self-driving safely quickly and broadly.

“The acquisition of ATG from Uber is a transformative deal with additional technology, additional talent and strategic relationship with Uber. Dara will be on board,” says, Theodosiou-Pisanelli.

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Hyping up Hyperloops

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department’s Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council have worked together with Virgin Hyperloop to create a framework to allow operation, says Sara Luchian, Director Passenger Experience, Virgin Hyperloop. She says the framework is actually setting a standard for the rest of the world.

Luchian was one of the first passengers to ride in a Hyperloop that uses magnetic levitation in a low-pressure tunnel to propel autonomous pods up to 600 mph. She felt comfortable. The ride was smooth and quiet.

She was excited because she knew she was making history. Although the pods only hold twenty people, the tunnels are run autonomously enabling many more passengers.

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2021 will be the Year of the ID.4 and EV

The CES partner event Automotive News’ Shift, “The Future of Mobility Get Up to Speed” delved into hot automotive technology topics, electrification, autonomous vehicles and policy.

From Volkswagen’s view – 2021 is going to be a big year for electric cars. For EV adoption It’s about pricing, packaging, and consumer desirability, says Scott Keogh, President & CEO, Volkswagen Group of America.

“If we look at 2021 this is going to the year EVs break–like the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. This is going to be the year of the EV,” says Keogh.

He says the only segment that was up in 2020 was EVs. The Volkswagen ID.4 sits in the middle of the new market that will expand over time. With an MSRP of $39,000 and federal and state incentives, ID.4 is at the right price.

“The response is enthusiastic and it’s a blast to drive,” says Keogh who has been getting text messages from dealers who sate former Tesla owners, Toyota owners, and original VW Beetle owners all want the ID.4.

The ID.4 has great technology, great driving at a great price plus it comes with free charging for three years says, Keogh.

He noted that the ID. Buzz already has a big buzz – which he calls pure magic Volkswagen, a humble smart super sleek fun CUV.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we are on the glide path. The future is very bright. We have multiple technologies, we are working on to make EVs cost the same as ICE,” says Michael Berube, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy.

EVs are far more advanced than gas-powered vehicles.

“After driving an EV – getting into an ICE will be a dinosaur to consumers,” says Kelly Helfrich, Manager, Electric Vehicles and Charging Infrastructure, General Motors, who notes that with a 200-mile (322 km) or 300-mile (483 km) range battery pack there is no more range anxiety.

For mass EV adoption, Craig Renneker, Vice President, Driveline Product Engineering, AAM suggests that prices of the drive units will have to be cheaper. The drive units will also need to be faster and smaller but then will use less cooper, magnets and steel.

The New Volkswagen Id.4

Autonomously Driven Goods 

Best known for autonomous driving, Waymo is readying its driver.

“Our product is not a self-driving car company. Our product is the driver in cars–but also trucks. We love to deliver goods,” says John Krafcik, CEO, Waymo wearing a white designer hoodie over a black shirt in front of a high white ceiling.

Waymo is adapting Chrysler Pacific vans for UPS and also working with Daimler for driving Class 8 Trucks. He says Waymo is embraced by the Stellantis Group and there will be more focus on goods movements.

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Autonomous vehicles are the long game – not something to rush.

Heidi King, Principal, Heidi R. King Analytic Consulting and former acting-head of NTSHA is keen on policy that does not get ahead of the technology.

“We don’t want policymakers designing vehicles. Legislators are now busy with the transition. However, NHSTA has ears open for this year and next year,” says King.

King doesn’t believe in safety exemptions because they instil consumer mistrust. She suggests an alternative compliance pathway.

Autonomous vehicles delivering and moving goods will be the first large application of autonomous technology because there are lower risks of exposure and a massive shortage of drivers. The driver shortage is expected increase, says Daniel Laury, CEO, Udelv.

There is a trend for increased delivery of goods and growth in the trucking industry. Movement of goods is less complex, making it easier to automate. Plus, large Class 8 trucks travel mainly on highways without pedestrians, says Laury.

Marques McCammon, President of Ricardo Inc., says autonomous trucking will cut idle time. It will reduce risk and collateral damage to the environment. Highway platooning drafting delivers a 5-15% increase in fuel economy. He says autonomous middle-mile business to business goods delivery is clearly a near term strategy.

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In the future, the absence of human drivers in autonomous ride-hailing provides less risky situations. Not having a driver there could help, says Nadeem Sheikh, VP of Self-Driving, Lyft. He also sees an increase in micro-mobility such as bike riding and scooters because they are fun.

“Autonomous vehicles are the long game – not something to rush. At the end of the day, we are looking to make vehicles safer and a broader extension of their lifecycle. To leapfrog to giving up control is a little aggressive,” says McCammon who suggests that to improve autonomous driving and electrification, “We need to collaborate more.”

Caterpillar’s Weiss recommends: “We find that when government and business work together that’s when it works the best to create new opportunities.”

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