Pittsburgh Technical Council

Revving Our Engines: Pittsburgh Sets the Pace for Autonomous Vehicles

Revving Our Engines: Pittsburgh Sets the Pace for Autonomous Vehicles

Article Published: August 30, 2017

By Audrey Russo, Pittsburgh Technology Council, President and CEO

I have to confess, I love cars. I used to know how to identify year and make of practically every car from the 1950s through the 1990s.

Newer cars became less interesting to me. The flattery of imitation, U.S. brands fell to their demise through simplistic designs that often feigned benign neglect. Foreign cars, many of which I have owned (Mercedes, Saab, Volvo and, the last decade, BMWs) were more like the machines I fancied from afar.

I have had one or more incidents force majeure with almost every car that has been in my possession, including standing still side and rear swipes; snow and ice traumas; falling tree branches; and even once, with a senior tech exec in my passenger seat, a classic T-bone (even with the sensors raging…I know, I know).

You can label me as you like – a serial auto accident owner, perhaps plagued with distraction and awe. However, what’s piqued my passion over the past five years has been the rallying innovation tied to autonomous vehicles and democratization of driving options from Zip cars to Uber to autonomous vehicles of every ilk.

PITTSBURGH HAS A DISTINCT OPPORTUNITY TO EXPERIMENT AND USE THE NEAR FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION. THERE IS A RAPID DASH ALL ACROSS THE U.S. TO BECOME “THE CITY OF THE FUTURE.” MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE MAY JUST BE THE OPPORTUNITY WE NOW HAVE IN PITTSBURGH. FLYING CARS ARE NOT FAR OFF EITHER. THINK ABOUT OUR ROADS FOR WALKING, CYCLING, SKATING AND RUNNING.

Operating a sleek, powerful machine made of steel, plastic and aluminum with a force that can decimate humans and animals alike in a millisecond only requires a few hours of training paired with a rote test and writing exam. As parents, we shove our children into car seats that each year require increasing standards. I don’t recall if I had to wear a seatbelt in my early years. I do know that we often rode three across the front seat, sometimes four with a baby on a lap. Crash standards have improved, and standards for children in car seats have become more stringent. We have safer vehicles AND require more protection inside the car, yet the number of annual deaths in the U.S. remains at 96 daily fatalities! Despite all of the advancement in materials and design, using cars for transport entails risk.

If safety doesn’t compel you to think about self-driving and autonomous vehicles, then accessibility should be of interest, no matter where you live in our metro region.

In Pittsburgh, we have been gifted with the research that Uber lauds here. We see further investment by the auto industry into our robotics sector. We now have material commitment into Hazelwood’s Almano site, thanks to the leadership of our foundations and RIDC with Carnegie Mellon University to serve as a sustainable work environment supporting the newest innovations.

We have the toughest terrain, markedly four distinct seasons (although, did we have spring this year?) and no semblance of a grid anywhere. That has proved to be fertile ground for autonomous vehicle research. While our population in the metro area has shrunk as reported by the last census, our traffic dilemmas have grown. As an older American city, our infrastructure refresh requirements are enormous and the toll of repairing them has caused additional traffic congestion all around the metro area.

Pittsburgh has a distinct opportunity to experiment and use the near future of transportation. There is a rapid dash all across the U.S. to become “The City of the Future.” Movement of people may just be THE opportunity we now have in Pittsburgh. Flying cars are not far off either. Think about our roads for walking, cycling, skating and running.

We can transform ourselves via the strong neighborhoods peppered through the city and region. Lets think about light rail for the suburbs and parking lots converted into new use of spaces. We cannot miss this chance to once again demonstrate that we soar to new strengths. The world is watching us, but they are not sitting back passively.

*Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s TEQ magazine. Just as TEQ went to press Audrey’s streak of auto accidents continued as she was rear-ended at a stoplight! Audrey is just fine. Her 4-series BMW did fair as well!

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