Editor’s note: Welcome to So That Happened, our editors’ takes on things going on in the manufacturing world that deserve some extra attention. This will appear regularly in the Member’s Only section of the site.
Autonomous Vehicles: Are We There Yet?
Automated Driving Systems for Rural America has completed a research project by the University of Iowa’s Driving Safety Research Institute to assess the usability of partially automated vehicles as a solution for aging people and people with disabilities in rural areas.
LiDAR cameras, computer vision systems, RADARS and an on-board high-definition map allow the shuttle bus to be partially automated. A human driver is still required to oversee operations, watch for hazards and take control if needed.
The bus and its specially trained safety driver and co-pilot have been driving a 47-mile route multiple times a week for two years to test autonomous driving capabilities on poorly marked rural roads.
“As automated vehicles become more advanced, we need to do more testing on rural roads to address the unique challenges that we as Iowa drivers know well, such as sharp curves, gravel and farm equipment on the roads,” says Dan McGehee, director of the University of Iowa Driving Safety Research Institute. "There is a big difference between driving in Iowa than in Silicon Valley or states where there are 12 months of sun.”
Key findings of the project include:
- The weather will not change how the vehicle drives
- The AV will drive in the right lane on narrow gravel roads with loose shoulders, as opposed to driving down the center
- The vehicle will slow for non-threatening objects
“Despite these challenges, overall we’ve shown that the technology shows great promise in rural areas and that there is a thirst for this technology, especially from those who have limited transportation options,” says project manager Omar Ahmad.
However, the optimistic outcome of this project comes amid newfound criticism of driver-assistance systems, particularly Tesla’s Autopilot.
In 17 fatalities, 736 crashes: The shocking toll of Tesla’s Autopilot, The Washington Post explores a significant jump in accidents. While AutoPilot is used for highway travel, Full Self-Driving, another feature Tesla is rolling out, is for maneuvering residential areas.
Although Tesla CEO Elon Musk touts the safety of these technologies, many are left wondering if the systems are mature enough to be widely used by the public.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported a large majority of automation-related crashes involve Tesla, and with the exponential increase of Tesla drivers utilizing autonomous capabilities, “nearly two-thirds of all driver-assistance crashes that Tesla has reported to NHTSA occurred in the past year,” writes the Post.
In February, Tesla recalled 360,000 vehicles due a number of safety concerns with Full Self-Driving Beta technology. Musk would go on to soften the severity: “The word “recall” for an over-the-air software update is anachronistic and just flat wrong!” he wrote on Twitter.
Considering all factors, consumers and businesses alike are left with one question: Are we really ready to let this technology take the wheel?
Energy Grants for the Little Guy
Global corporations have sustainability officers and plenty of financing to devote to energy efficiency. But what about the 90% of U.S. manufacturing companies that are small and medium-sized? They often have more immediate concerns than investing in a renewable energy system, like, say keeping their machines running optimally, their people engaged and their accounts receivables current.
The U.S. Department of Energy is hoping that some new grant funding ($80 million in the first round, through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) will give smaller manufacturers a boost toward energy efficiency. Eligible companies can receive a free energy assessment and up to $300,000 (50% or more cost-sharing) in grant funding for projects to lower costs and reduce emissions. The deadline to apply is July 14; you can learn more here.
A Split Decision in the Lordstown-Foxconn Bout
The relationship between Lordstown Motors Corp. and Foxconn has crumbled to the point where the cash-strapped electric-vehicle startup has prepared the “We’ll see you in court” card.
The two companies have been bickering this spring about the agreement signed last year that called for Foxconn to pay $47 million for about 10% of Lordstown’s shares—adding to its 8% stake and following up on its purchase of the former General Motors Corp. plant in Northeast Ohio. Foxconn in April said Lordstown shares’ slide below $1 absolved it of its requirement to invest more. Lordstown’s brass said that was off base but still pushed through a 1:15 reverse stock split and Lordstown now trades at about $3.
In an SEC filing last week, Lordstown’s leaders say their Foxconn peers have thrown them another curveball by saying the companies’ investment agreement didn’t account for said reverse split and instead was very specific in calling for Foxconn to buy “26,855,453 shares of common stock for a purchase price per share equal to $1.76.” Post-split, that would give Foxconn another more than 60% of Lordstown’s stock.
The Lordstown team’s response—essentially the legal/regulatory equivalent of an exasperated “Oh. Come. On!”—says Foxconn “pattern of bad faith” has irreparably hurt the EV maker and, barring a quick resolution that doesn’t appear to be coming, will soon have them walking to the courthouse.
“Whether Foxconn’s most recent maneuver is another effort to sabotage the [stock purchase agreement] or an attempt to capture a windfall and seize control of the company, it will not succeed,” an attorney for Lordstown wrote to his Foxconn counterpart.
But like we said last month, being proven right may not mean much for a Lordstown desperately in need of cash so it can complete work on its initial batch of 500 Endurance pickup trucks. The clock ticks on mercilessly.