Self-driving Car Proposal

This proposal envisions self-driving cars in Portland. Autonomous last mile transit may help reduce congestion. So can smarter cars and smarter highways, bus rapid transit, congestion pricing, hyperloop, biking and electric scooters.

Lyft aims to bring fully driverless cars to multiple US cities in 2023. Uber, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a self-driving car project, sold it to Aurora, a startup founded by CEO Chris Urmson who headed Google’s self-driving project. Their Aurora Driver has been integrated into multiple sedans, an SUV, minivan, a large commercial vehicle, and a Class 8 truck.

Companies building and operating robotaxi fleets include:

  • Waymo, which announced deals to purchase “up to” 82,000 vehicles for use in its taxi fleet in 2018, although its fleet still numbers in the hundreds of vehicles.
  • Cruise (owned by GM, Honda, and others)
  • Argo (owned by Ford and Volkswagen)
  • Motional (owned by Hyundai and auto-parts supplier Aptiv)
  • Zoox (a startup that was recently acquired by Amazon)
  • Aurora (a startup that recently acquired Uber’s self-driving program)

Above is a Transportation Vision for Hayden Island. But a state-wide network of community charge stations using standardized containers and resilient solar might save lives as well as money. (pdf).

Moovit provides travelers with multimodal trip planning by combining public transportation, bicycle and scooter services, ride-hailing, and car-sharing. Aptiv and Hyundia joined forces in March and renamed the group Motional, which is working with Lyft.

Autonomous cars may become a reality faster than major bridge projects. Uber plans to buy up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo, to become the owner/operator of a fleet of self-driving cars. Volvo’s agreement with Uber and Ford’s with Lyft show the heat is on to cut out the driver and turn profits.

Google’s Waymo has been testing on the roads of Kirkland, Washington, since 2016. Seven companies are testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in Washington State:

  • May Mobility – Michigan-based startup focused on self-driving shuttle fleets
  • Navya – French robotaxi developer
  • NVIDIA – Established chipmaker that has branched into artificial intelligence and vehicle software and sensors
  • TORC Robotics – Blacksburg, Virginia-based company with significant defense contracting revenues
  • Dooblai – Self-driving car software company in Redmond/Bellevue, Washington
  • Simple Solutions – California-based computer networking company
  • Waymo – Self-driving car subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc.

Motional and Lyft operate the robotaxi service in Las Vegas and Lyft purchased Motivate which operates Biketown. Connect the dots.

Congestion is the problem. There are too many cars. Most sit parked. Autonomous transit can deliver commuters to the nearest transit hub. Autonomous vehicles might BE mass transit – when “platooned” together.

Better mass transit is one solution. But the only way to get people out of their cars and into mass transit is to make it (1) Cheaper (2) More convenient (3) Faster.

Congestion costs Portland commuters $1.76 billion in time and fuel in 2014, according to a 2015 analysis by the Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In 2017, Inrix estimates that Portland delays cost $3.9 billion in fuel, lost time and freight delays. That’s $1,648 a year per metro resident.

Gas for a car costs about $.12 per mile while electricity costs about $.04 per mile. Automatic driving is more convenient. Congestion pricing for reduced rush hour traffic and streamlined transit lanes would be faster and give people more transportation options. Cheaper. More convenient. Faster.

Waymo already has self-driving cars in Phoenix, but now you can hail a completely autonomous vehicle…with nobody on-board. Jacksonville’s autonomous EasyMile Gen-2 people mover is powered by four batteries that store 30 kilowatts, recharged using Level 2 charging, a common standard found on most electric cars. A full recharge takes approximately five hours. It seats up to eight people and allows seven more passengers to ride standing.

Volkswagen’s Sedric, here in 2021, is a typical example of an autonomous people mover. Intel is building a fleet of 100 autonomous cars to test self-driving software in partnership with BMW, Volkswagen, and Nissan. GM’s autonomous car, deploying in 2019, is based on an EV Bolt. Portland’s RFI for Autonomous Vehicles and California’s Proposed Driverless Regulations establish a path for the testing and deployment of fully autonomous vehicles.

ODOT has formed a task force on automated vehicles and will report legislative recommendations by September 2018.

Here’s my own proposal for an I-5 congestion fix using autonomous vehicles over a dedicated bridge to the Yellow Max line.

The National League of Cities reports that cities need to speed up their efforts of preparing for autonomous cars. Currently, some 35 cities including San Francisco, Austin, Nashville, Washington, Paris, Helsinki, and London are running autonomous vehicle tests.

The Madrona Group propose to convert I-5 between Vancouver and Seattle into an autonomous vehicle corridor (pdf). They suggest a phased in approach that begins with allowing autonomous vehicles to share the HOV lanes immediately and progresses to devoting two lanes to autonomous vehicles. Finally, by 2040, all lanes of I-5 will be dedicated to autonomous vehicles during peak travel times.

Local tech, transportation, and development companies created the ACES Northwest Network to ensure cars that are “Automated, Connected, Electric and Shared” (ACES). Members include INRIX, Nvidia, Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Puget Sound Energy, and others.

Las Vegas is testing a self-driving Navya shuttle. Waymo, owned by Google, has signed a deal with Lyft and Chrysler to bring autonomous vehicle technology into the mainstream through pilot projects in Phoenix, Kirkland, and elsewhere. Waymo uses Avis to manage their autonomous fleet in Phoenix.

Uber has rolled out autonomous vehicles on city streets in Pennsylvania, California and Arizona. The 2019 Audi A8 is the first production car with level-3 autonomy. That would be now.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order in June, 2017 that will allow driverless cars to test-drive on Washington roads, with or without a human behind the wheel, by this summer. Inslee’s order was backed by executives from General Motors, Google and Uber and established an autonomous vehicle work group to advance the objectives of the Executive Order.

Washington State will follow New York and California to allow full autonomous tests. Each year, the number of states considering autonomous vehicle legislation has increased. So far in 2017, 33 states have introduced legislation. Last year, 20 states introduced legislation.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman directed the Transportation Bureau to draft policies for autonomous vehicles that would give developers a path to apply for permits to test them within the city, including on open, public roads.

The directive tells PBOT to take four actions to advance the Smart Autonomous Vehicle Initiative (SAVI) within the next 60 days:

  • “Propose for City Council and public consideration Interim Transportation System Plan (TSP) policies that ensure connected and autonomous vehicles will serve Portland’s safety, equity, climate change, and economic goals;
  • “Publish a Request for Information (RFI) that invites AV testing specific to advancing safety, equity, climate, and economic goals;
  • “Adopt an Interim Administrative Rule that provides a clear path to permit innovators to apply to test, pilot or deploy AVs in Portland; and
  • “Develop public engagement, reporting, and evaluation plans that ensure Portland residents, workers, and businesses have opportunities to shape the “rules of the road” for AVs in Portland.”

“We can’t simply dismiss the idea that autonomous vehicles are going to be a big part of our transportation system,” Wheeler said.

The Navya Autonom Cab comes with 22 kWh or 33 kWh battery packs and holds 6 passengers with two rows of 3 passengers.

C-TRAN’s Bus On Shoulder program uses the shoulder of SR 14 to by-pass traffic when the highway is congested. A similar approach might be used for autonomous cars in platoon mode. No new infrastructure.

Here’s a walking tour of New York’s elevated linear park, The Highline. Pedestrians and gardens on top, autonomous below. Rails re-imagined. No rails. Connections to Hyperloop.

Big Drivers
Congestion, deaths, and pollution are the big drivers towards autonomous transportation. On-demand vehicles can provide last mile connectivity to mass transit, while reducing the need for parking. Driver error causes 95% of highway deaths. Transportation is a service that YOU might prosper from. Driverless vehicles are anticipated to increase productivity while reducing pollution, deaths and congestion.

Transportation in cities across the U.S. could be greatly impacted by autonomous services offered by Lyft and Uber for the “last mile”. One study, Driverless Future: A Policy Roadmap for City Leaders, found driverless cars could cause a shift of up to 60 percent from traditional vehicles in the New York metro area alone over the next 15-20 years.

Consider this an Autonomous Vehicle Plan for 2030 (pdf). It’s estimated that most cars on the road will be autonomous by 2035. Portland’s Transportation Plan did NOT consider autonomous vehicles — a huge oversight if you take industry projections seriously. The dominance of autonomous vehicles is a guarantee.

C-TRAN’s $58 million Bus Rapid Transit project on 4th Plain, was 80 percent funded from a Federal Transit Administration Small Starts grant, with C-TRAN kicking in 14 percent and another 6 percent from the State of Washington.

If the self-driving Navia costs $10,000/month to operate and carries 250 people a day or 7,500 a month, that totals about $1.50 a head – broadly speaking – far cheaper than bus transit.

Autonomous vehicles may cost between $50,000 and $70,000, but commercial markets could deploy them 24/7 – without driver or gas overhead – enabling faster profitability. Coal-powered vehicles might be eligible for subsidies by the Trump administration.

[Here’s my original 2013 proposal. Not much has changed in the 3+years (except that people now know what autonomous cars are), but when the $50M Smart Cities contest was announced, I de-emphasized the Columbia Crossing component and promoted the 5G wireless and Tillikum bridge concept and moved it to this domain.]

This paper proposes an autonomous test-bed connecting Portland State to OMSI. The ultimate goal is to move people from a Vancouver WA hub to the Yellow Max line at the Expo Center. Battery-operated, rubber-tired, people-movers could use a much cheaper pedestrian bridge. No tracks. No overhead power.

Here is an executive summary (pdf) and a simplified explanation of how connected vehicles would work in the real world (US-DOT).

Developing autonomous vehicle expertise with a Portland-based incubator is one goal. Addressing urban congestion is another goal.

Everybody’s Doing It

Lyft has tried to position itself as an agnostic player in the autonomous vehicle industry with its Open Platform Initiative, under which it will cooperate with car manufacturers to test self-driving cars and use their technology on its ride-hailing network. The self-driving start-up nuTonomy and Land Rover, among others, have already joined. Uber is valued at $69 billion, more than any other privately held tech startup in the world.

In China, the world’s first driverless Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit system has started testing in Central China’s Hunan province. The electric vehicles run over pavement, which has been described as a “cross between a bus, train and tram.” Equipped with sensors, it can read the dimensions of a road.

The three-carriage vehicle is 32 meters long, with a maximum speed of 70 km per hour and can carry up to 300 passengers. The developer said that the system cost just one-fifth a traditional tram system. No overhead power wires.

Smart City Challenge
The US Smart City Challenge asked for data-driven ideas. The winning city was expected to incorporate the Intelligent Transportation Systems with both connected and automated vehicles. DOT has 10 vision elements. Winning proposals will likely incorporate at least one of the elements to solve transportation challenges. A Smart City Challenge finalist will have the following characteristics:

  • a population between 200,000 and 850, 000
  • dense urban population
  • existing public transportation system

Portland was one of 78 cities around the country that applied for the $50 million federal ‘Smart City’ grant (#SmartCityChallenge).

Portland was chosen as one of seven finalists in the Smart City Challenge, but Columbus, Ohio won the final contest. Columbus lined up about $90 million in local matching commitments, including $19 million in public money. That gave it a total of $140 million to upgrade Columbus’ transportation network.

Columbus plans include:

  • Deploying electric, connected, self-driving vehicles to help bridge the “first and last mile” gap to public transit. Local Motors is prepared to deploy talking, electric, self-driving shuttles.
  • Setting up a “smart corridor” where vehicles connect with infrastructure and other vehicles to support bus rapid transit.
  • Local Motors makes 3D printed cars. Columbus plans to work with Local Motors on a self-driving electric shuttle called Olli.

The Columbus proposal is available here. The 7 proposals chosen in the finals were:

Google’s Sidewalk Labs is teaming with all 7 Smart City finalists to port analytics to all platforms. This component for integrated, aggregated, anonymized smartphone data for transportation is now available to everyone. Google is competing hard with Amazon’s AWS, which is also offering Smart City cloud services through the US-DOT. Google’s Flow software will help city officials identify problems like gaps in public transit or bottlenecks in traffic so they can ultimately find the fastest, safest, and most affordable way to move people.

– Approximately 100 Sidewalk Lab Kiosks using Google’s’ Flow software would aggregate and analyze mobility data from a great number of sources including Google Maps, Waze, municipal data, and remote traffic sensors to identify what’s causing congestion.

Some people fear that Google’s Sidewalk and Flow services could gut traditional bus services and require cities to invest heavily in Google’s own technologies, reports The Guardian. But Tri-Met and Google have worked together on projects such as the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) which encouraged hundreds of independent developers to create competitive products.

Portland State’s FIWARE — for “Future Internet”-ware — is an open-source technology used for smart cities all over Europe. PSU will use it for the first time in the United States.

The Autonomous & 5G Elements

Specs vary but a typical autonomous transit vehicle is electric-powered, has a range of 50 miles, and can carry 12 passengers.

Current providers include the Navya (Meridian), Local Motor’s Olli, EasyMile, RoboSoft, and 2getthere. Pretty much off the shelf. Zoox, a Robo-Taxi start-up, is taking on Google and Uber and was granted permission by California to use public roads.

AT&T has allied with Cisco, Qualcomm, Ericsson, IBM, and Intel for IoT infrastructure.

Portland could also test 5G “Cloud-RAN”, for vehicular connectivity. Intel is working on “5G” with Ericsson, Nokia, LG and Verizon. Data centers replace radio gear formerly under cell towers. Public kiosks become “small cells” dispensing “free” Public WiFi (paid for by advertising) as well as 5.9GHz DSRC for connected vehicles.

Solving Congestion

The overall economic impact of congestion in the U.S is estimated at $2.8 trillion by 2030 – the same amount Americans collectively paid in U.S. taxes last year, according in Inrix (pdf).

Portland is tied with Chicago and Washington, D.C., for the eighth most congested region, according to a new study by TomTom.

Autonomous I-5 Bridge?
Portland’s Light Rail is already built to the Expo Center. We just need to hop across the Columbia River to offload the crushing Vancouver WA / Portland congestion to Light Rail. Autonomous transport may be the most cost/effective solution.

The autonomous Navia shuttle can fit up to 10 people and is designed to accommodate a wheelchair. The Navia (Meridian) uses anchor points to see along its prescribed course. It could shuttle people around the Jantzen Beach Shopping Center. A similar shuttle might use an inexpensive pedestrian bridge to cross the Columbia.

Tesla’s Elon Musk believes their fully autonomous cars will drive across the US unassisted within 2-3 years. Audi is less optimistic, predicting autonomous vehicles will be here in 10 years or so.

Tesla’s Model S P85D with auto steer is available now. Autonomous cars will likely be here before the next I-5 bridge. Legislative and Regulatory Action for autonomous cars is underway in many states.

Autonomous Vehicles Have Arrived
W-DOT and O-DOT didn’t consider the impact of autonomous vehicles on the Columbia River bridge, but driverless technology will take over taxi and car-sharing fleets in less than 15 years, according to some predictions.

Fiat is working with Google to test the technology in 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrids and has held separate talks with Uber and Amazon to partner fully autonomous vehicles.

In January, GM invested $500 million in ride-hailing company Lyft and snapped up Cruise Automation for more than $1 billion. Other startups, such as Zoox and nuTonomy, have gained more recognition in the wake of GM’s purchase.

nuTonomy, an MIT startup, is launching a fully autonomous taxi service in Singapore. For Jaguar/Land Rover, nuTonomy will drop off a rider at a shopping center then find its own parking spot. nuTonomy does Level 4 autonomy, or full self-driving automation. Google’s autonomous cars, in contrast, are currently at Level 3, with limited self-driving automation.

GENIVI, also supported by Jaguar/LRover, GM, Intel and others, is open source, In-Vehicle Infotainment software hosted by the Linux Foundation.

Google’s Sidewalk Labs, which is behind LinkNYC’s free WiFi kiosks, plans to expand into transportation, energy, and smart city applications around the world.

Google is testing its self-driving car in Mountain View and Austin, Texas. They’re currently averaging ~10,000 autonomous miles per week on public streets. Business Insider predicts about three percent of new cars will be self-driving by 2020, but an additional 65 percent will be linked to a wireless network.

Within a decade, 1 in 8 cars sold around the world will have autonomous features, a $42 billion-a-year market, estimates Boston Consulting Group.

Portland could be ahead of this curve.

Portland startups that have evolved to become established, successful firms include AppFog, Cloudability, CargoLabs, Elemental, Globesherpa, Puppet Labs, New Relic,, Urban Airship and among many others.

How might a “smart city” infrastructure be implemented? Kansas City, Austin, and New York are utilizing smart Kiosks as hubs. Google picked Kansas City for its first Google Fiber three years ago.

Connected Vehicles
Kansas City is installing 25 Smart City kiosks. The kiosks are a part of the $15.7 million, public-private Smart City project in downtown Kansas City. Kansas City announced the initiative in the summer of 2014. Sprint expects to spend $7 million for the free Wi-Fi along the streetcar line. KCnext, a trade association for the tech industry in Kansas City, is trying to attract firms and startups to work with the sensor data.

Google acquired and merged the companies that have been working on LinkNYC, a similar kiosk system to the one in Kansas City. Google’s Project Fi connects Wi-Fi and cellular networks together while their Sidewalk Labs helped develop LinkNYC hotspots, which are branching into Internet of Things services such as connected vehicles (at 5.9 GHz).

In Portland, a Smart City Corridor might utilize interactive Public Kiosks along the Eastside Portland Streetcar route, connecting Portland State University to the OMSI science center.

One hundred wireless public kiosks, fed by Google Fiber (or radio), could deliver free public WiFi, DSRC for connected vehicles, and fixed access using cloud based Radio Access Networks developed by Intel, AT&T, and Ericsson. “Wireless cable” with Gigabit speeds may deliver 10 Mbps connections to 100 simultaneous users. Beamforming could boost capacity 10x. Backhaul could be fiber or radio. That translates to 100 Mbps for $29.95/month…or even 10 Mbps for $9.95/month.

Google will build a 500-square-foot fiber hut next to the KGON tower by OHSU where it could offer 3.5 GHz Gigabit wireless (as it has in KC). It would be one of several fiber huts Google plans around Portland. Google’s fiber hut might be a good place for Intel’s initial C-RAN testbed.

Google MAY test 3.5 GHz in Portland (blue dots) and WILL test 3.5 GHz in San Francisco (green areas). The red line shows coastal exclusion of 3.5 GHz due to ship’s radar.


Portland’s initial 3.5 GHz antenna may be located near the Portland sign on Burnside, according to FCC filings. Google says 3.5 GHz has a working radius of 30 Km (18 miles). Maybe Google has a sense of humor. The proposed 3.5GHz location is seen about 50 ft away from its nemesis, a Spy-1 Phased Array Radar on the USS Spruance. If that doesn’t trigger a database query, nothing will.

Google may be able to feed hundreds of downtown WiFi hotspots (at 3.5/5 GHz) or provide Gigabit Wireless from a single KGON tower backhaul using 24, 28 or 39 GHz wireless for “5G” connectivity. Verizon may provide competition using their purchase of 39GHz provider Straight Path. This is, I think, fairly obvious and inevitable.

5G is the enabler. It’s bigger than transportation. The truth is, this proposal is less about cars and more about 5G wireless.

Portland Strengths
Jaguar Land Rover’s new tech incubator in Portland invited Pangea Motors of Vancouver, which makes a 16 passenger electric bus as a partner. Portland startup was also selected to be part of Jaguar’s partnership. Their fleet management tools and electric vehicles combined offer a new and innovative option for urban transportation.

Intel is collaborating with Ericsson, LG Electronics, Nokia, Verizon and AT&T to lay the foundation for 5G at February’s Mobile World Congress in 2016 (pdf).