During the holiday season, news outlets reported that Apple is working on adding electric self-driving cars to its repertoire of products and services. Apple is using the codename “Project Titan” for its electric vehicle that is expected to have fully autonomous capabilities. Like a present with a big red bow on it, the secret surrounding Project Titan was itching to be unwrapped. Apple has yet to disclose the news itself; however, sources familiar with the project revealed details of the new vehicle that could be entering the market as early as 2024.

At this time, there are no vehicles available for purchase in the U.S. that are equipped with Automated Driving Systems (ADS). ADS describes level 3-5 motor vehicles with driving automation systems that perform part or all of the dynamic driving task (DDT) on a sustained basis. At levels 3-5 of automation, a person is not considered to be driving the vehicle when the automated driving features are engaged. If Apple releases a fully-autonomous vehicle, it has the potential to be the first available for purchase in U.S.

Sources reported that Apple is setting itself apart from competitors by using an innovative monocell battery design. This type of layout bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack by eliminating the need for pouches and modules to hold battery materials. There are also talks of Apple using a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery, which is less prone to overheating than other types of batteries. In more recent news, it was reported that Apple is actively searching for a supplier for lidar sensors for its vehicle. By acting as the eyes that allow a car’s computer to see its surroundings, lidar sensors play a key role in the autonomous part of the Apple Car. The majority of autonomous vehicles use lidar sensors; however, Apple is specifically seeking lidar sensors that will still be considered cutting-edge years from now.

While most of Project Titan remains secret, patent applications filed by Apple provides additional insight as to what features the car may include. Apple’s patents describe several technological advancements including an “intelligent” window-tinting system that responds to external weather conditions, a new way to send alerts using a system for enhancing situational awareness, and an augmented virtual display using a virtual reality system to help reduce motion sickness in passengers.

Fully autonomous vehicles are getting closer to being road ready, but the self-driving technology and the laws surrounding the use of these vehicles are in need of further development. The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) has decided to pay closer attention to automation and preparing for the future of transportation. The U.S. DOT’s fundamental focus is to create the safest, most efficient and modern transportation system in the world. Recognizing that automated vehicles align with their focus, on January 11, 2021, the U.S. DOT released the Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan (“Comprehensive Plan”) to understand and respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by ADS. To achieve the U.S. DOT’s vision for ADS, the Comprehensive Plan outlines three goals: promote collaboration and transparency, modernize the regulatory environment, and prepare the transportation system for the safe integration of automated vehicles.

Creating a regulatory scheme to integrate automated vehicles alongside regular vehicles is no small task. Currently, there are no national standards for automated vehicles. However, states are free to enact their own legislation regarding the use of such vehicles within their borders, and 29 states and D.C. have done so. The Comprehensive Plan states:

“The U.S. Government will modernize or eliminate outdated regulations that unnecessarily impede the development of AVs—or that do not address critical safety, mobility, and accessibility needs—to encourage a consistent regulatory and operational environment. In doing so, it will promote regulatory consistency among State, local, tribal and territorial, and international laws and regulations so that AVs can operate seamlessly nationwide and internationally. “

Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan

While the law often lags behind technological innovation, it should not “unnecessarily impede” it, as stated above. The Comprehensive Plan is a step in the right direction for Apple, the several other companies developing automated vehicles, and for the public soon to be driving, or riding, in them.

The delivery industry is evolving in order to keep up with the rise of home delivery. Arrival, a startup company in the process of building electric delivery vans, plans to add new vehicles to the roads in the next few years. The company plans to offer vehicles with different battery capacities, but the current model maxes out at 200 miles of range. Arrival’s vehicles are expected to carry 500 cubic feet of packages and up to two tons. In order to be competitive with the direction towards automation, Arrival is designing its vehicles to accommodate autonomous systems which will allow for a smooth transition once autonomous driving is more widely used. In the meantime, the vehicle’s Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) will increase safety and operating efficiencies.

Arrival has recently captured the interest of big corporations. Hyundai and Kia announced that they are investing around $110 million in Arrival and will jointly develop vehicles with them. UPS has been a partner of Arrival since 2016 and has both invested and ordered 10,000 of Arrival’s electric delivery vans. UPS was motivated to purchase these vehicles because of its efforts to cut emissions and delivery costs, both of which Arrival contends its vehicles will do. UPS plans to begin using some of these vehicles later this year.

The Arrival vans along with UPS’s Waymo project “will help us continue to push the envelope on technology and new delivery models that can complement the way our drivers work,” said Juan Perez, chief information and engineering officer at UPS.

Arrival sets itself apart from other electric delivery vehicle companies in a few ways. One is its plan to establish “microfactories” that take up 10,000 square meters and make around 10,000 vehicles a year for nearby customers. The use of microfactories instead of a large plant will significantly cut the costs of manufacturing. Another unique aspect of Arrival is its modular approach to production in which the vehicle’s weight, type, size, and shape can be customized according to the purchaser’s preference.

The environmental aspect of using electric vehicles over gas or diesel vehicles is a major component that will contribute to Arrival’s current and expected success. A report by the World Economic Forum revealed that deliveries will increase carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 unless there is effective intervention. One of the intervention options that will have the greatest impact on reducing CO2 emissions is switching to battery electric vehicles. According to the report, battery electric vehicles can reduce CO2 emissions by 16%. UPS currently has about 123,000 delivery vehicles in its fleet. If all goes well with the electrical vehicles it purchased then the vehicles currently in UPS’s use might be phased out which is the sort of intervention our environment needs.

“As mega-trends like population growth, urban migration, and e-commerce continue to accelerate, we recognize the need to work with partners around the world to solve both road congestion and pollution challenges for our customers and the communities we serve. Electric vehicles form a cornerstone to our sustainable urban delivery strategies. Taking an active investment role in Arrival enables UPS to collaborate on the design and production of the world’s most advanced electric delivery vehicles.”

Juan Perez of UPS

Cargo Bikes in NYC

These past few weeks millions of people went online, added various items to their cart, and hit “submit order.” From Thanksgiving until the end of December, the volume of packages hitting the road will be substantial. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and holiday shopping all taking place in a short time span, the resulting packages will cause delivery trucks in heavily populated cities to disrupt road traffic more than ever.

New York City (NYC) has the highest population density of any city in the United States with over 27,000 people per square mile. Not only is NYC the most populated, it also has more packages delivered than anywhere else in the country. There are nearly 1.5 million packages delivered a day in NYC and during the holiday season that number climbs even higher. When making deliveries, trucks park in bus lanes and bike lanes, double-park, cause a significant number of cyclist accidents, and contribute to congestion. Additionally, delivery trucks pollute the air by sitting in traffic and idling its engines throughout the day.

Delivery companies and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are recognizing the rate people are ordering online and have begun to realize that large trucks may not be the most feasible option to navigate the busy streets. Recently, the city approved a new program in which cargo bikes operated by Amazon, UPS, and DHL will be allowed to make deliveries for the next six months. The Commercial Cargo Bike Program consists of around 100 pedal-assisted, electronic cargo bikes that are ready to replace some of the delivery trucks on the road.

“There’s no doubt the rise in deliveries has caused chaos on our streets–but there are plenty of thoughtful solutions out there to make our streets safer and more sustainable. I’m excited to see DOT exploring this new technology which will help bring NYC’s freight and delivery systems into the 21st Century. I look forward to seeing these cargo bikes on the road and working with DOT in the near future to take a comprehensive look at how we manage these deliveries.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson

The goal of the program is to monitor and collect data on how the cargo bikes handle the streets by looking at the cargo bike’s speed, size, parking, use of bike lanes, and effect on overall traffic in Manhattan. The data will be assessed by the DOT to determine whether a more permanent implementation of cargo bikes is appropriate for NYC. In the meantime, cargo bikes are permitted to travel on the street and in bike lanes at a maximum speed of 12mph as well as park in existing commercial loading areas without paying the meters. According to DHL, their cargo bikes can hold 300 pounds, which depending on the size of the packages, could be around 100 to 150 shipments per day. For each cargo bike put on the road, there is meant to be one delivery truck taken off.

Other large cities such as Paris, London, Dublin, and Seattle, have found success in using cargo bikes. UPS has cargo bikes in over 30 cities all over the world. In NYC, however, Amazon is at the forefront of the cargo bike movement. Amazon’s cargo bikes comprise 90 of the initial 100 bikes deployed for the program and they hope to add more soon. Amazon began putting their cargo bikes on the streets before the Commercial Cargo Bike Program was officially approved. Their cargo bikes were first put to use ten months ago for Prime Now grocery deliveries.

The convenience, flexibility, and efficiency of cargo bikes make them just one of many possible solutions for package delivery in densely populated cities. Now that cargo bikes have the support of NYC and the DOT, residents might begin to see some much needed relief to the vehicle congestion caused by too many trucks on the road.

Developments in technology have led to an increased reliance on artificial intelligence and autonomy in various vehicles such as cars, planes, helicopters and trains. The latest vehicles to implement autonomous technology into their operations are shipping vessels. Autonomous ships will transform the industry and current regulations are being reassessed to determine the best way to include this futuristic way of shipping.

he shipping industry is regulated on a global level and it remains one of the most heavily regulated industries today. International shipping is principally regulated by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency responsible for the safety of life at sea and the protection of the marine environment. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) developed a comprehensive framework of global maritime safety regulations that was adopted from international conventions. In order to be proactive, IMO initiated a regulatory scoping exercise on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS). The scoping exercise is led by IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee and is expected to be completed by 2020. The goal of the exercise is to determine how autonomous ships may be implemented into regulations and will touch on issues such as safety, security, liability, the marine environment and the human element.

In order to assess the scope of differing levels of autonomous ships, IMO defined four degrees of autonomy. The lowest degree of autonomy involves automated processes that can control the ship at times. Seafarers will remain in charge of operating and controlling the ship when the automated system is not activated. The second degree is a remotely controlled ship with seafarers still on board. The ship will be controlled from another location but the seafarers on board will be able to take control if necessary. The next degree is a remotely controlled ship without any seafarers on board. Lastly, the highest degree of autonomy is a fully autonomous, unmanned ship that is equipped with the ability to make decisions and take action by itself.

Several companies have already begun implementing autonomous capabilities into their ships and the technology is rapidly developing. While the scoping exercise is underway, the Maritime Safety Committee approved interim guidelines for trials to be completed on existing and emerging autonomous ships. The trials should be generic and goal-based and take a precautionary approach to ensure the operations are safe, secure, and environmentally sound. In 2018, Rolls-Royce conducted its first test of an autonomous ferry named Falco. To demonstrate two degrees of autonomy, the ferry was fully autonomous on its outward voyage and then switched to a remotely controlled operation on its return to port. The controller was in a command center 30 miles away and he successfully took over operations of the ship and guided it to the dock.

Autonomous ships are expected to improve safety, reduce operating costs, increase efficiency and minimize the effects of shipping on the environment. An increased reliance on autonomy will reduce the chance for human error thereby improving safety. Human error accounts for 75-96% of marine accidents and accounted for $1.6 billion in losses between 2011 and 2016. Operational costs are also expected to decrease as there will be little to no crew on board. Crew costs can constitute up to 42% of a ship’s operating costs. If there is no crew then accommodations such as living quarters, air conditioning and cooking facilities can be eliminated. Further, a ship free from crew accommodations and seafarers will make voyages more efficient because the ship will have an alternate design and an increased carrying capacity. Lastly, autonomous ships may prove to be better for the environment than current vessels. The ships are expected to operate with alternative fuel sources, zero-emissions technologies and no ballast. 

As we have seen in other transportation industries, regulation for autonomous vehicles falls far behind the technological innovation. By taking a proactive approach in the case of autonomous shipping, IMO may be ready to create regulations that better reflect the future of shipping within the next decade.