Sandra Watson Steven G. Zylstra
05 Driven to Succeed
EXECUTIVE EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
Autonomous vehicle developers use Arizona as their own lab
CREATIVE DIRECTOR Jill A. Brownley
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04 Publisher’s Letter
Plenty of mettle on this pedal
08 High-flying Honeywell
Arizona plays pivotal role in company’s urban-air mobility
10 Institute for Automated Mobility
Unique collaboration driving the future of transportation
Exhausted No More
Zero-emission vehicles to take shape in two Arizona factories
13 Thinking on the Fly
NAU researcher making drones smarter, situationally aware
14 Standby—For Now
Autonomous planes head for skies but passengers to join flight much later
15 A Better Way
Startup licenses photovoltaic system that captures more heat and energy
16 Multifaceted Leader
Dr. Sunil Sharma named TGen’s new physician-in-chief
Sharing the Ride
Working together seen critical to transportation’s future
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...................... Plenty of mettle on this pedal
Calling it just a bump in the road would be quite an understatement. When the U.S. Department of Transportation was preparing its report “Beyond Traffic: 2045” for release nearly four years ago, the idea was to prepare for a future marked by clogged roads. The expectations were enough to make a person consider hitchhiking. In particular, some of the nationwide study’s expected challenges in 25 years hit too close to home: • Population shifts into megaregions, including fastest-growing Sun Corridor running northwest from Nogales, Mexico, to beyond Phoenix. • Roads deteriorating faster as extreme heat pushes average temperatures higher. • A 77% increase in Americans older than 65, including a third of them having disabilities that limit mobility. What’s the answer to moving people and their freight on an increasing scale? Some of the coming fixes can trace their roots to Arizona. A prime example is what has been happening began at Fort Huachuca, the largest unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) training facility in the world. This $10 million facility contains 25,000 square feet of space and 10 simulators that manage 964 square miles of restricted air space. Nearly 12,000 military members have been trained and certified in UAS at the fort. Add to that the entrepreneurs and defense agencies from across the globe that test and evaluate their UAS at the U.S. Army installation. As a result, Sierra Vista has become home to some of the nation’s leading civilian contractors that develop UAS technology. One such company, Northrop Grumman, saw the need for training a new type of workforce and teamed with Cochise College to develop a UAS curriculum leading to a technician associate degree.
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Now, companies like Amazon Prime Air see the potential for making deliveries with drones. Johns Hopkins researchers set a new delivery distance record for medical drones by transporting human blood samples across 161 miles of Arizona desert while maintaining temperatures to ensure they would not impact lab tests. On a grander scale, UPS Flight Forward is the first drone airline to receive FAA approval allowing its fleet to fly beyond operators’ visual line of sight. As you’ll see in this issue of TechConnect, moving cargo without a human pilot aboard is just scratching the surface for the future of transportation. Arizona already is part of the solution when it comes to relieving the expected congestion by using the skies and roads in more efficient ways. Much of this stems from using connectivity to taking humans hands off the wheel and, in some cases, literally putting them in the back seat. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates connected vehicles and new crash avoidance technology have the potential to address more than three-quarters of crashes involving unimpaired drivers. Autonomous vehicles already are being put through their paces on Arizona roads. One aerospace manufacturer here is even developing ways for vehicles to carry passengers through the skies without their having to start their trips at the airport. And for the earthbound, more cars and even trucks soon will be able get from here to there without spewing emissions. Get ready for a joy ride into your future! n
..................... Autonomous vehicle developers use Arizona as their own lab
One foot in the present, the other pointed toward what lies ahead. That sentiment captures the state of autonomous vehicles in Arizona. “Self-driving” has become more than just a term that will be used some day in our state. We already are sharing the road with cars, vans and trucks that carry us and our payloads. And such progress in a short period already is prompting ideas of what is to come in our future. To many, the king of the road when it comes to autonomous vehicles has been Waymo. Since launching its early rider program in 2017, the company’s full-size hybrid Chrysler Pacificas have had a regular presence in the Phoenix metro area landscape. Much of the time has been spent improving the capability of what is called the Waymo Driver. In the past year alone, the fourth-generation Waymo Driver has pioneered fully driverless, paid rides on high-speed roads across a service area larger than the city of San Francisco.
Waymo has made a few stops along the way to pick up some partners. A program with UPS had the minivans ferrying packages from the parcel-delivery company’s stores in the Phoenix area to its hub in Tempe. While the vehicles drove without human assistance, each included a Waymo employee who monitored the vehicle’s performance while carrying the cargo. For users of the ride-hailing service Lyft, they could opt for a Waymo vehicle to take them to their destination in certain zones within the Phoenix area. But this only is the beginning of Lyft’s move into the new autonomous driving sector. It already is developing Level 5, a self-driving system for the Lyft network that will share the benefits of self-driving technology for its riders. The company already is creating a team of nearly 400 software and hardware engineers, applied researchers, product managers, operations experts and others to make this a reality. For those who are looking for a ride in a group, Phoenix-based Local Motors wants to introduce them to its driverless shuttle known as Olli, the world’s first co-created, self-driving electric shuttle. Olli took to the road when Local Motors held a first-of-its-kind
Driven to Succeed
Waymo has now turned the corner by offering all rides in a fully driverless mode as it opens the opportunity to transport more people through use of an app. And after adding in-vehicle barriers between the front row and the rear passenger cabin for hygiene and safety, Waymo will add capacity to serve a larger geographical area later in the year.
A Waymo van in downtown Chandler
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global fleet challenge in which municipalities, campuses and designated districts were invited to propose short-term, local use for the shuttle. Entries were evaluated before Olli’s fleet was deployed to a series of select locations.
Local Motors’ microfactory in Chandler functions as the main site for building Olli. The company actually made a mark earlier when it became known for 3D-printed mobility solutions.
Starship Technologies’ robot at ASU
Veyo already is looking down the road to see how the technology of autonomy could have a place in NEMT. Its executive vice president of technology released his view of a future where vehicles are equipped with virtual nurses who would be able to measure basic health indicators of the passenger such as blood pressure and heart rate. In the event of an emergency during the transport, the virtual nurse could alert emergency responders, share the location of the vehicle and even safely pull the vehicle to the side of the road. When it comes to giving others the location of a vehicle, that information typically is based on accessing map data already linked to the vehicle. But one Tempe-based autonomous software developer is pioneering mapless driving platform whose approach allows a vehicle to “see” the world in front of it. Imagry’s vision-based software with artificial intelligence identifies the road, route, vehicles, obstructions and even pedestrians without requiring high-definition mapping. The platform generates realizations of the car’s surroundings in real time, allowing the vehicle to quickly adapt to its environment.
Another transportation service making inroads in Arizona also sees a future in autonomy but serving a different ridership. Veyo is the nation’s only full-service, tech-enabled non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) broker. Its platform and real-time controls let Veyo manage a supply system in what it calls a “virtual fleet” that can scale up and down to meet changes in demand—within minutes—using predictive analytics to constantly gauge demand patterns. It has made a name for itself during the pandemic by creating a specialized fleet of drivers who can transport COVID-19 infected/suspected patients to and from life-sustaining medical appointments, with the aim of alleviating the extreme stress placed on the non-emergency ambulance industry.
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With headquarters in both the United States and Israel, Imagry’s idea is impacting this new industry on a global scale. The company has partnered with AutonomouStuff for inclusion in its portfolio of autonomy-enabling technologies for worldwide resale. AutonomouStuff customers seeking to avoid the limitations of mapping can now capitalize on the efficiency, scalability and reliability of Imagry’s mapless technology when developing and deploying their own autonomous solutions. While people can count on finding a ride in the autonomous, there is also room in this field for companies that want to carry their stuff. One such company is TuSimple, a global autonomous driving technology company that has been operating a fleet of self-driving trucks from a base in Tucson as it develops a commercial-ready Level 4 (SAE), fully autonomous driving solution for long-haul heavy-duty trucks. TuSimple is the only self-driving truck company capable of driving on highways and surface streets without human intervention. It launched the world’s first autonomous freight network with routes to and from Phoenix and Tucson, featuring digitally mapped routes, strategically placed terminals and a proprietary operations-monitoring system.
UPS also has found a partner in the autonomoustruck startup, which has been moving freight loads for the package delivery company in Arizona. That translated into TuSimple making 10 runs per week for UPS on a new route between Phoenix and El Paso while another 10 runs were on an established route between Phoenix and Tucson. The partnership turned into a real-world example of how autonomous trucking can reduce the carbon footprint of the freight industry. An extra for TuSimple was the discovery that its autonomous trucks were achieving 10% fuel savings during operations for UPS when compared to traditional operation. Keeping these developments in mind, it probably is no surprise that UPS has made a minority stake in the company. TuSimple aims to transform the $800 billion U.S. trucking industry by improving safety and efficiency, reducing operating costs and carbon emissions. The company already has contracted customers beyond UPS to make daily autonomous trips. TuSimple plans to demonstrate driverless operations in 2021. But there is another company that has a small jump on making autonomous package deliveries in Arizona. (OK, the loads top out at 100 pounds and the vehicles only walk as fast as pedestrians.) Starship Technologies’ fleet of 40 robots began making food deliveries in
August across Arizona State University’s main campus in Tempe campus. Starship Technologies has partnered with Aramark, a leading food and facilities vendor on hundreds of colleges and universities across the United States, to send out the autonomous, on-demand robots for deliveries from ASU campus eateries. Using the Starship app, students, faculty and staff can order food and drinks from on-campus retailers to be delivered anywhere on campus within minutes. The Tempe deliveries weren’t the first in Arizona. Starship launched a similar service last year at Northern Arizona University. Like TuSimple, Startship is getting its fleet ready for a longer hauls. The devices actually can carry items within a 4-mile radius. That means taking parcels, groceries and other items directly from stores and delivering them at times that customers specify in the app. And no wayward robots are expected since the robots’ entire journey and location can be monitored on a smartphone. Whether it’s a pint-sized carrier making its way down the sidewalk or a van filled with a more precious two-legged cargo, autonomous vehicles have not only found a place to test the waters in Arizona but they also have a found a base where the new and different can be expected to be at home for years to come. n
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..................... Arizona plays pivotal role in company’s urban air mobility progress Admit it. The question has crossed your mind more than once when you’ve been stuck in traffic: “When will I get a flying car just like George Jetson’s?”
operations combines automation and best practices with the goal of reducing the amount of knowledge an operator must have to safely fly an aircraft.
Honeywell is working to make your dream come true.
“It is essential that these vehicles are as intuitive as possible and that we have a dedicated space to ensure our systems make that a reality,” says Stéphane Fymat, vice president and general manager, UAS/UAM, Honeywell Aerospace. “With this new lab we can fully simulate real vehicle functionality with real hardware for our customers, which will cut back on costly flight test hours and help them reach their goal of attaining simplified vehicle operations.”
Perhaps the most visible commitment to that idea is the company’s new research and development lab at Honeywell’s Deer Valley avionics facility in Phoenix. Configured to resemble the front end of an aircraft, the lab has one seat in front of a primary display with three additional large wraparound displays to view a simulated outside environment around the aircraft. A control stick is used to fly the digital aircraft through a high-resolution model of a city. Honeywell computers and actuators mounted on nearby workbenches adapt in real time to pilot inputs, winds and thermals, and simulated hazards. Featuring hardware typical of a traditional aircraft cockpit and Honeywell’s Compact Fly-by-Wire System serving as brains of the operation, flight routes and control laws are built into the software so the simulated vehicle operates the same as it would in the real world. This activity is part of Honeywell’s effort to demonstrate its technological capabilities in both hardware and software for the markets of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and urban air mobility (UAM)—a new breed of electric or hybrid-electric aircraft that can take off and land vertically. The lab, which resembles a conceptual UAM vehicle flight deck, is the first of its kind to demonstrate actual fly-by-wire controls and vehicle avionics integrated in a lab setting. Honeywell’s goal is to develop, test and demonstrate technology aimed at simplifying the operations of future vehicles. The concept of simplified vehicle
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But this is just one piece of the puzzle. Honeywell has begun in-flight testing of sensors that will guide UAM vehicles to land without pilot intervention. Test aircraft have been outfitted with the sensors and include cameras that analyze visual markings resembling QR codes, which help guide the vehicle to a designated landing spot. This is a key step toward the future of flight as Honeywell’s sensors support safer, autonomous UAM operations.
“Navigation is a key part of Honeywell’s heritage, from the industry’s first autopilot to the opportunities we see today in urban air mobility.” Matt Picchetti, VP and general manager, Navigation and Sensors, Honeywell Aerospace Testing of these sensors will help gather data and refine their capabilities to support autonomous landing. This milestone furthers the initiative to achieve cleaner, safer and smarter aircraft. Incidentally,
“Navigation is a key part of Honeywell’s heritage, from the industry’s first autopilot to the opportunities we see today in urban air mobility,” says Matt Picchetti, vice president and general manager, Navigation and Sensors, Honeywell Aerospace. “We are drawing on this expertise and our problem-solving capabilities to lead the way in identifying and bringing to market the most effective technologies to support safer and increasingly autonomous UAM operations.” With more automatic features and processes, pilot workloads will ease and critical maneuvers during flight will become easier and safer. Operations may also benefit from the strategic use of autonomous landing, making vehicle throughput more predictable and reducing turnaround time. Passengers ultimately can benefit from the improved reliability, safety and comfort of smoother autonomous landing practices along with more reliable transportation schedules. There already is outside interest in Honeywell’s progress. Vertical Aerospace has signed a letter of intent naming Honeywell as the supplier for flight
deck technologies for its demonstrator aircraft program. The demonstrator program will help Vertical Aerospace understand flight characteristics, system requirements and the flight deck user interface to further develop its own vehicle. Word is getting out, as Honeywell recently received several awards for its progress in the field. Newsweek named Honeywell a Smart City Partner in its first Momentum Awards, citing its work in automation and progress toward reinventing the transportation industry. Besides its UAM efforts, Honeywell also provides guidance components for driverless cars, trucks and ships, as well as systems for managing transportation infrastructure like airports, vertiports and power supply stations. Autonomous Vehicle Technology magazine recognized Honeywell’s technology by giving it an ACES Award, which recognizes top companies in vehicle autonomy, connectivity, electrification and mobility services. The magazine cited the company’s investment in UAM and its rapidly growing portfolio, from fly-by-wire computers to propulsion systems. It seems like the sky may not even be the limit for Honeywell. n
data collection was compiled in Arizona using Honeywell’s AS350 helicopter and further testing with the company’s partners is planned.
Honeywell’s Deer Valley avionics facility in Phoenix
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..................... Unique Arizona collaboration driving the future of transportation
There’s only one place in the country where you can hail an on-demand, fully driverless vehicle from your smartphone—and it’s here in Arizona. Waymo just last month launched an industry-leading, self-driving car service for riders in Chandler, Mesa and Tempe. The fact that Arizona is a worldwide leader in automated-vehicle deployment—and a testing hub to Waymo, GM, TuSimple, Intel and others—speaks to the state’s unique spirit of innovation. Part of this success can be attributed to Arizona pioneering what is becoming the national playbook for a safe and scalable transition to automated vehicles.
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In 2018, Governor Ducey created the Institute of Automated Mobility (IAM). Led by the Arizona Commerce Authority—the state’s leading economic development organization—this consortium includes experts from private industry, government and academia working together to advance research in automated vehicle science, safety and policy. Private sector partners include Intel, State Farm and engineering firm Exponent. Experts in academia from Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University are providing industryleading research. Governmental entities, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Arizona Department of Transportation, Maricopa County
Department of Transportation and Pima Association of Governments, as well as the non-profit Institute of Digital Progress are part of this collaborative effort. The result is a living, breathing lab advancing realworld research and answering the critical questions about the future of mobility.
“Under Governor Ducey’s leadership, Arizona is globally recognized as a hub for innovation and emerging technologies. IAM enhances this reputation by bringing together many of the best and brightest minds to conduct groundbreaking automated vehicle research and development.” Sandra Watson, Arizona Commerce Authority President & CEO “There are very few places like it around the world. It not only helps us inform what we are going to do here in Arizona but also is informing our efforts globally, as well,” said Jack Weast, Senior Principal Engineer with Intel and Vice President of Automated Vehicles Standards for Mobileye. “It’s having a really outsized impact because of the uniqueness of the approach.” In April, IAM researchers published what’s currently the world’s definitive research paper defining the safety metrics for autonomous vehicles.
said Dr. Larry Head, Professor, Systems and Industrial Engineering, University of Arizona. “If we don’t have a place to research and test out the technology, we don’t know what it’s going to cost, what the risks are and even if it’s going to work. So having the (Anthem SmartDrive Testbed) allows us to do that.” In the U.S., an average of 102 people each day die in motor-vehicle crashes and, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 90% of car crashes are caused by driver error. Automated technology may eliminate a large number of these crashes. “State Farm supports technology advancements that improve auto and highway safety and reduce deaths and injuries from car crashes. The more we understand this technology, the better we can be there for our customers’ changing needs,” said Alex Cardona of State Farm’s Transportation Engagement Office. The way we travel and use our roadways is changing rapidly, and cars of the future will operate much differently than they do today, Cardona said. The IAM has created the environment that supports automated vehicle innovation and maintains a sharp focus on public safety. “We have always been focused on the big picture, and involvement in the IAM allows safety experts to develop consistent public safety messages about all forms of vehicle automation and research current and future traffic-safety challenges.” n
“That whitepaper has been passed around the world, literally,” Weast said. “We have colleagues who participate at the United Nations, and they shared the whitepaper there. It’s kind of the tip of the iceberg for the impact (IAM) is going to have.” IAM partners have worked with Maricopa County to equip an intersection in Anthem with cameras and infrastructure—and will soon test light-detecting radar systems there—to study automated and connected vehicles in real-world scenarios. The research is key to what will someday be the safe, large-scale rollout of automated and connected-vehicle technologies. “5G technology will allow cars of the future to become the Internet of Things. Our TVs are smart, our appliances are smart—our cars need to be smart, too,”
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Exhausted No More
..................... Zero-emission vehicles to take shape in two Arizona factories
When it comes to talk of rural Arizona playing a role in development of zero-emission vehicles, no one is blowing smoke. Nearly $1 billion is being spent to create manufacturing facilities for cars and big rigs. Casa Grande is home to Lucid Motors’ new 820,000-square-foot electric vehicle factory, a project launched with a groundbreaking in December 2019. In nearby Coolidge, Nikola is building its facility to assemble hydrogenpowered trucks, which could be rolling off the assembly line as soon as late 2021. Lucid Motors’ first car, the Lucid Air, will be a luxury sedan featuring full-size interior space in a mid-size exterior footprint. That translates into more room for passengers and cargo with less room taken up by batteries—the opposite of what usually is found in electric cars. On top of that, the Air will have a travel range of more 400 miles and go from 0 to 60 mph in under 2.5 seconds. Production of different trim levels of the Lucid Air will begin in early 2021.
While customers need to wait a bit before climbing behind the wheel, Lucid Motors is moving ahead to impact Casa Grande and the surrounding region as
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it completes the first phase of factory construction, representing an investment of more than $300 million. The economic impact includes: • Approximately 4,800 direct and indirect jobs by 2029. • Over $700 million in capital investment by Lucid by the mid-2020s. • An estimated $32 billion revenue impact for the city and county over a 20-year period. Adding to this are new training programs and curricula being developed at local community colleges to prepare potential workers. About a half-hour drive to the northeast, Nikola is working on the first phase of what is expected to be a 1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility when the second phase is projected to be completed within the following 12 to 18 months. The factory represents a capital investment of approximately $600 million. At full production, the facility will reach 35,000 units annually. The first Nikola Tre trucks will be produced in Germany with partner IVECO, followed shortly after by output from the Arizona site. The use of hydrogen will not be the only thing state-ofthe-art. The future 4.0- designed Coolidge facility will incorporate new technology to increase connectivity 24/7 throughout the building and equipment to optimize energy, productivity and quality. When completed, a workforce of 1,800 is estimated be on the site. It will be the second major location in Arizona for Nikola, which is based in Phoenix. n
..................... NAU researcher making drones smarter, situationally aware with grant BY BONNIE STEVENS Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have opened the door for an unprecedented number of uses for unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs). Groups of drones now can work together in networks for purposes such as traffic control, smart agriculture, surveillance and security systems, law enforcement, public safety and much more.
Razi says critical missions could involve forest fires, traffic accidents, search and rescue, or military operations. “If someone tries to penetrate your mission by sending in their own drones and making problems either on purpose or by accident, we want the UAVs to find the intrusion and cope with the situation.” The research aims to make drones more independent of human control and observation, act like teammates by coordinating with others in their area and be able to identify intruding or enemy drones.
THINKING ON THE FLY
misbehavior or misconduct, or even interference of an outside drone and diagnose issues within a network.”
However, current drone systems are missing key considerations such as the ability to identify and respond properly to environmental and behavioral factors, says Abolfazl Razi, an assistant professor in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems (SICCS) at Northern Arizona University. That’s why Razi is working to make drones smarter and more autonomous. The director of NAU’s Wireless Networking and Smart Health (WiNeSH) Lab, Razi has received a $480,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for his project titled, “Proactive Inverse Learning of Network Topology for Predictive Communication among Unmanned Vehicles.” Through computer programming, he believes drones can be developed to express situational awareness; recognize malfunctioning, suspicious or invading UAVs; and make adjustments on the fly. “When we have hundreds of drones with limited communication ranges flying together, we need to keep connectivity and information flow uninterrupted,” Razi says. “The focus of this project is to enable UAVs to monitor themselves and each other, taking into account different scenarios.” A key component of the project deals with adversity. “A drone that has joined a mission may show an anomaly and violate the set regulations for the mission. Instead of following the pre-planned motion trajectory, it may go dangerously close to other drones, for example,” he says. “We want other drones to be able to analyze the trajectory and identify
Razi will conduct experiments with UAV teams in his WiNeSH lab and outdoors in northern Arizona. “Each drone will be equipped with software capable to make decisions about the environment,” Razi says. “Also, each will have its eyes on the other drones and will observe whether its neighbors are making decisions that are rational or irrational.” The research will include the human-inspired method of proactive learning from limited experience by exposing the software to various conditions and involve reverse engineering of the UAVs’ decision support system (DSS). “This approach serves for AI-enabled networking by incorporating the predicted responses into system protocols,” Razi says. The three-year project is expected to benefit U.S. government agencies, organizations and researchers with the ultimate goal of developing better systems of multiple autonomous drones. n Bonnie Stevens is a freelance writer for NASU’s Office of the Vice President for Research.
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Some positioning systems in planes are very old and still in use, but newer aircraft use multiple positioning systems, including GPS, which itself can sometimes be unreliable. New systems are in development.
Autonomous planes head for skies but passengers to join flight much later
What are some of the challenges of moving toward fully autonomous planes? On the technological side, it’s in
..................... BY TERRY GRANT Following a successful FedEx Cessna 208 Caravan test flight with no pilot aboard in late June, FedEx CEO Fred Smith announced to shareholders that the company is working with Reliable Robotics to use small, fully automated, self-flying cargo planes to deliver cargo to remote areas. Smith noted that FedEx pilots should rest assured that it will take decades for technology to replace humans in large freighters. Daniel Bliss, an electrical engineering professor and director of the Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architecture at Arizona State University, agrees with Smith. “The technology may get there more quickly than that but the regulatory infrastructure by the FAA and international regulatory agencies will take longer,” Bliss says. “And that’s probably a good thing.” Bliss is working with Europe’s Airbus to design a navigation and positioning system designed for use in autonomous flight. Bliss shared his insights on breakthroughs in pilot-free flights.
Are there any fully autonomous planes in the air now?
some ways easier to have autonomous planes than autonomous cars. There are fewer obstacles, so it’s less likely you’ll hit something. The downside is that there’s no stepping on the brake if there’s trouble ahead. Fortunately, we can teach a computer to build an algorithm: If system A fails, switch to system B, if system B fails, do this. Novel joint communication and positioning technologies: In addition to navigation systems, and in support of them, communication systems will be critical. For example, in development are ASU’s communication and high-precision positioning (CHP2) systems that don’t have typical GPS vulnerabilities due to signal blockage or not enough satellites in rural areas. Moreover, CHP2 and other joint communications systems are spoof resistant and less susceptible to jamming—important qualities of autonomous systems. Also in the communications sphere is how air traffic controllers communicate with autonomous planes, and assurance that all aircraft manufacturers are installsystems compatible with international airports. It’s not just the technology: There are also social and safety issues. What happens the first time there’s an accident? Ground vehicles are naturally more efficient than air vehicles, and we’ll need time to address that.
Current autonomous aircraft are preprogrammed drone taxis from China’s EHang. They are very low-altitude vehicles being tested in a few markets, like Dubai. I’m not sure that, aside from a few short flights from one building to another, they are transporting passengers any significant distances yet.
Safety regulations: The biggest hurdle will be uniform, global flight regulations. With one of the drone projects in ASU’s lab, the F rules changed three times during the span of research. Consensus-building at an international level while trying to keep up with advancing technology, it will be challenging.
There also are smaller, self-directed UAVs used for surveying, but these are used in areas like planned golf courses or farmland where accidents won’t be catastrophic. In terms of commercial flights, whether freight or passenger, we’re not there yet.
What’s a reasonable time frame to expect commercial flights to be fully autonomous? As technology moves
However, most planes are semi-autonomous. We’ve all heard of autopilot. In those planes, pilots still manage the take-off and landing procedures, although there already are many landing aids built into those systems.
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more closely toward full autonomy, we’ll initially proceed with one pilot in the cockpit until we make sure the plane isn’t going to do something dumb. We’ll have the technology to go autonomous in 10 years or so but it will likely be another five or 10 before we are boarding those commercial passenger flights. n Terry Grant is media relations officer in ASU’s Media Relations and Strategic Communications.
A Better Way
..................... Startup licenses photovoltaic system that captures more heat and energy BY PAUL TUMARKIN University of Arizona researchers from the College of Science and the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences have been developing a highly efficient photovoltaic system that captures more heat and energy from sunlight than current solar panel models. Most of today’s photovoltaic systems use flat solar panels, which are relatively inefficient in their ability to capture and convert the sun’s energy. The technology invented by Regents Professor of Astronomy and Optical Sciences Roger Angel uses large mirrors that focus sunlight onto small, multi-junction solar cells, converting the light into energy through a high-efficiency process similar to how a magnifying glass focuses sunlight to one small point. Now, the technology has been licensed to startup Gen3, with the goal of manufacturing photovoltaic generator modules for commercial and industrial use. The company’s founder, David Vili, born in the country of Georgia in Eastern Europe, came to the United States in 1992 to pursue a business degree. While on a pilgrimage at a monastery in Arizona, he visited a UArizona showcase at the College of Science’s Biosphere 2 and came across the invention. He met the researchers behind the project and eventually purchased a photovoltaic unit for the monastery, providing it with an independent electricity system.
Currently, Gen3 is perfecting the design and making sure that the technology works in a variety of environments and weather conditions. The company is also developing maintenance mechanisms and user protocols. “We’re using the monastery as a testing ground,” Vili says. “We’re making the system simple to use and making sure that it’s durable—it’s one thing to control for wind and dust particles in the electronics; controlling for a monsoon is another thing entirely.” The company is currently partnering with different researchers and universities to combine technologies and develop potential applications for the system, from generating clean alternative energy to making potable water more widely available. Vili partnered with Tech Launch Arizona, UArizona’s commercialization arm. “The reason I jumped right into (Gen3) was because of TLA,” Vili says. “I knew that with TLA I had support and a strong backing. “ In the first phase, the company is running a pilot implementation of its technology at the monastery with 15 units. Next, the company wants to build up a larger factory and move into a full installation at the monastery with an estimated 160 units, giving Gen3 a full-scale case study. For the third phase, in the next three to five years, Gen3 plans to work with governmental and private clients on a large scale to implement solar projects throughout the United States and overseas. n Paul Tumarkin is assistant director, Marketing and Communications at Tech Launch Arizona.
“I went to buy this (technology) for the monastery, so they would have an independent solar energy system,” Vili says. “(The monastery has) 50 monks who live in a desert. They’re brilliant, brilliant people who devoted their lives to worship and have says no to every earthly pleasure that we get. So, all of us who go there, we try to help as much as we can.” Vili recognized the potential for commercialization and his contribution to the monastery marked the beginning of Gen3.
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..................... Dr. Sunil Sharma named TGen’s new physician-in-chief BY STEVE YOZWIA The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of City of Hope, has appointed Dr. Sunil Sharma as physician-in-chief following a nearly three-decade career that spans the areas of research, drug and clinical trial development. Sharma succeeds Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff, a leading expert in pancreatic cancer who was instrumental in developing key clinical and research programs at TGen. Von Hoff, who joined TGen in 2003, will continue as a distinguished professor and executive vice president, Molecular Medicine, to further his work in pancreatic cancer research and clinical trials. “Dr. Von Hoff’s commitment to TGen and patients with pancreas cancer is second to none,” says Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen president and research director. “This transition provides him the opportunity to focus solely on pancreas cancer research and treatment, a disease against which he’s made profound advances.” Trent added, “Dr. Sharma’s appointment as physicianin-chief recognizes the important role he has played across TGen’s many biomedical disciplines since his arrival. He is a distinguished researcher and clinician. In addition to his leadership at TGen, he is rapidly bringing research in clinical efforts in immune treatments to the forefront of patient benefit.” Sharma joined TGen in 2017 as deputy director of clinical sciences, professor, and head of TGen’s Applied Cancer Research and Drug Discovery Division, but Von Hoff knew him years before that. “It’s been a privilege to know and work with Dr. Sharma over many decades, and I look forward to his leadership in the years ahead,” says Von Hoff. “His intellect, drive, insights and innovative approaches will serve TGen—but more importantly, patients—well. With this outstanding physician and scientist, there is no doubt the office of physician-in-chief is in incredibly capable hands.”
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“I’m grateful for the opportunity this new role provides and humbled to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Von Hoff,” says Sharma. “I look forward to collaborating more broadly across the institute in search of new opportunities for patient benefit, and am committed to keeping TGen at the forefront of precision medicine.” Sharma is also a professor of medical oncology at City of Hope, a world-renowned comprehensive cancer center that also treats diabetes and other life-threatening diseases, and co-leader of City of Hope’s Developmental Cancer Therapeutics Program.
DR. SUNIL SHARMA, TGEN PHYSICIAN-IN-CHIEF At TGen, Sharma broadened his research and clinical portfolio beyond his specialty of colon and pancreatic cancers to include drug development— immunotherapeutic treatments in particular—for COVID-19, Alzheimer’s disease, memory performance and other cancers, including breast and ovarian cancer. Prior to TGen, Sharma served as deputy director of Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City where he co-led the Experimental Therapeutics Program developing new therapeutics, including image-guided and targeted drug-delivery systems. He also worked as a physician in the Division of Gastrointestinal Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and built a phase I clinical trial program at the Nevada Cancer Institute in Las Vegas. In addition to his clinical efforts, Sharma has worked with a number of pharmaceutical companies, including Swiss-based Novartis, where he helped develop ceritinib, one of the most widely used anti-lung cancer agents; Merck’s pembrolizumab; and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s nivolumab, the latter two immunotherapy drugs, both of which help the body’s own immune system attack cancer cells. n Steve Yozwiak is TGen’s senior science writer.
SHARING THE RIDE
..................... Working together seen critical to transportation’s future
With so much talk about individualism when it comes to innovation, it admittedly can take a person back when the conversation shifts to collaboration. This theme came up again and again during the recent podcast “Electrifying: The Future of Transportation and Mobility” sponsored by the Arizona Technology Council and moderated by Karen Nowicki on Phoenix Business RadioX. The featured guests were Andrew Christian, vice president of Business Development and Defense at Nikola Motor Company, and Dominic Papa, vice president of Smart State Initiatives at the Arizona Commerce Authority. Nikola is building a manufacturing facility in Coolidge to produce trucks powered by electricity created with hydrogen fuel cells. While that would seem to make the utilities and oil industry nervous, Christian sees them jumping into the electric vehicle game as willing partners with creative solutions.
“By 2030/2035 we’re going to be very close to adoption in my opinion and a lot of that is just going to be regulated. But we’ve got to make sure we take care of the industry, too. We can’t just impose laws that they can’t meet the demands and the time lines, and do it economically. So, we have to figure all this out together.”
For example, Christian says, workers who now make pistons for an engine manufacturer should be crosstrained into different sectors. “They’re literally going to have to innovate or they’re going to die,” he says. Another consideration is the impact on utilities, which now benefit the charging of current electric vehicle models with limited ranges. Nikola is gearing up for the production of its semi trucks that will each have a 750-kilowatt battery pack. Christian says that’s the equivalent of seven Teslas. What can be done with the energy produced when the truck is out of service? “Give back to the grid when energy demand is very high and pull back when energy is cheaper,” he says. As for the future of the traditional gas station, they also have the chance to adapt. Christian said they can be converted into electric vehicle charging stations in a phased approach as the internal combustion engine is phased out. With California having the most electric vehicles in the country, there already are charging stations close to gas stations throughout the state. In the case of Nikola, Christian sees a future with hydrogen stations operating in conjunction with electric vehicle stations. His company already is exploring the types of partnerships that can occur with existing stations to keep its trucks powered. “It doesn’t make sense to recreate infrastructure if infrastructure already exists, right?” Christian asks. Papa is familiar with the potential of what can happen when people find common ground. One of the reasons that a smart region was created here, he says, was to bring cities and towns together to think together, act together and innovate together. “We started to look at the infrastructure plan at scale so not every individual municipality was trying to create their own kind of infrastructure plan,” Papa says.
Andrew Christian, VP of Business Development and Defense at Nikola Motor Company
Through advancements in transportation technology, including autonomous vehicles, that are part of smart planning, he sees the economic boosts that can accompany investments in innovation while cities and states wrestle with the costs of public safety in terms of traffic accidents.
That means sectors that some would seem to be threatened by the move to electric should consider the opportunities.
With so much money being invested in research and development plus Arizona becoming known as a progressive state, “we’re really going to reap the benefits of the economic development,” Papa says. n
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