WARRENDALE (KDKA) – You may not know it, but Tuesday was officially declared Pathway to Autonomy Day in Pittsburgh. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald made the proclamation.
Mayor Bill Peduto has long said he wants Pittsburgh to be at the forefront of autonomous vehicle technology. Local companies, like SAE International, are listening.
“Today is the inaugural pathway to autonomy,” says David Schutt, the CEO of SAE International. “Really, what that’s all about is trying to help the public understand the whole movement towards electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and vehicles connected to each other and to the infrastructure.”
The company sets standards for all kinds of things, everything from car braking systems to de-icing systems on airplanes. Their goal is to make transportation technology safer, and more effective.
“It’s a massive endeavor, first and foremost, to ensure safety of all the pedestrians and the passengers involved,” says Schutt. “But, the amount of technology that is going into it, the use of computing power, the use of mechanical instruments… It’s all coming together to make this a reality.”
There are several levels of autonomous vehicles. The lowest level is a basic, driver-operated vehicle. Level five is fully automated and self-driving.
“The autonomous part of it is really heading towards this whole notion of mobility,” says Dave Hofert, the Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President of Sales for Perrone Robotics, Inc.
The company provided autonomous vehicle test drives at SAE’s headquarters in Warrendale on Tuesday.
“If you’re elderly, you’re handicapped, or maybe you just want to make better use of your time going to the office…you can be doing e-mails or reading a book and have the car drive,” says Hofert.
Inside the vehicle, a control panel allows the user to set the course, see what’s happening with the car at every moment, and even stop the vehicle.
The driver starts a program, it connects to a computer in the trunk of the car, and the robotic voice of “Max” answers.
“My name is Max, and I’m now aware,” it says. “My vehicle pre-check is okay, ready for your go-ahead.”
The user hits the “go” button, and the car follows the pre-selected course. It maneuvers around obstacles and pedestrians by following GPS waypoints.
While it all may sound futuristic, the stepping stones of the technology are already in use.
“Much of it is invisible behind the scenes,” says Schutt. “The antilock brakes, the electronic stabilization was already the beginning phases of this activity.”