Doe Science news source
The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-05-01 11:50:17
  • Article ID: 693399

Take Me Home, Country Roads: The Future of Autonomous and Electric Vehicles in Rural Areas

  • Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech

    Michigan Tech is one of eight teams competing in the AutoDrive Challenge, a collegiate design competition sponsored by SAE International and GM.

Autonomous vehicles hold a lot of promise. But what about in rural communities? Undergraduate students look into the environmental, social and economic impacts of advanced vehicle technology.

Three engineers. Four non-engineers. Together they wrote a report on the social and human aspects of the autonomous technology development as a part of the AutoDrive Challenge, a design competition sponsored by SAE International and GM. The report is a requirement in the new collegiate challenge and the students wrote it as a part of their Seminar in Sustainability: Renewable Energy and Alternative Fuels class with Roman Sidortsov, assistant professor of energy policy at Michigan Technological University.

While the engineering students from the Robotics Systems Enterprise grapple with the challenges of syncing sensors and designing vehicle communication systems, Sidortsov's crew tackled the fundamental questions around the social impact and acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

The competition organizers tasked the students with figuring out environmental, social and economic impacts of the cars, as well as making a case for autonomous electric vehicles. Sidortsov says that his students dug into new aspects of these questions, focusing on rural communities.

"How can we prevent alienating rural America even more with expensive autonomous vehicles?" Sidortsov asks. "Our work shows it comes down to putting communities first and building technology around their needs."

Two students from the class—Kyla Valenti and Cameron Burke—will be presenting the report at the AutoDrive Challenge competition in Arizona later this month.

Interdisciplinary from the start

Other researchers are tackling the moral, ethical and social conundrums of autonomous tech, too. Sidortsov points out that MIT uses an algorithm—a kind of artificial morality—built on deep learning and big datasets.

"My students went and talked to real people," he says, explaining that the report employed complementary social science methods, a survey and two focus groups organized around parents and the elderly. Because the work is done in tandem with the technical side, it is more relevant and insightful from the start. "Social implications and human implications are the starting point of every technology. Context matters."

When asked what context surprised them, the students were intrigued by the tension of their participants' fear of new technology woven through with excitement for new possibilities. An example worth highlighting is rural ridesharing—like the local foods movement and community-supported agriculture for self-driving cars—which minimizes individual costs while maximizing access, vehicle use and fuel economy. It is also like grassroots efforts to encourage voting and other civic engagement; people are thinking not just about abstract ideas, but how to make a difference in their communities given real challenges.

"Our focus groups were enthusiastic but wary. People told us, 'If they can't fix the potholes, how can we trust they'll maintain autonomous cars?'"

Jack Wilson, sustainability and society major

Environmental impacts: Wildlife, land use, saving fuel

Autonomous and electric vehicles can greatly reduce fuel consumption and it's considered a motivation for many hybrid and electric car purchases. (Check out how the Advanced Power Systems Labs is taking it to the next level with NEXTCAR.) But the parents focus group pointed out that the real impact depends on how the vehicles are actually used, and how often.

Some environmental impacts are less obvious—especially in urban settings. One major rural impact could be reducing collisions with wildlife. But for the number of deer and other critters saved, habitat and land use could be altered with changing infrastructure. The mere idea of change led to a few salty responses on the class' survey.

"We gave people space to write in responses on our survey—and some people threw that back at us. They said we don't know what the impact is going to be on our community, why are you asking us when you should be telling us because you're the researcher." 

Kyla Valenti, social science major

Social impacts: Concern and excitement over self-driving cars dominate the conversation

Safety is the driving force behind people's concerns with autonomous vehicles. Ironically, they could make driving a much safer activity—but the novelty of the technology changes people's perceptions.

"We've accepted automobile deaths as a norm. Because autonomous vehicles are new, we're suspicious of any accidents—it comes down to people's sense of control."

Zoé Ketola, systems engineering and business studies and economics double major

Safety ethics usually get presented in the classic "Trolley Problem" format: a kid is about to get hit by a streetcar; by killing another pedestrian, the kid could be saved. In autonomous tech, the question comes down to who the vehicle should save and how that risk is calculated. The trolley discussion can be limiting, however; it's extreme and most real-world scenarios are not when it comes to autonomous vehicles.

For the students, acknowledging the inherent gray space between the yellow lines of autonomous roads emphasized the unique challenges for rural communities. In particular, during their discussions with the elderly focus group, the team realized how much current vehicle systems limit some groups. Autonomous vehicles—especially community-owned ones—could make travel available to groups like the elderly and students without cars.

"How we commercialize tech often does not consider the impacts on marginalized communities."

Mike Ryan, social science major

But, of course, participants had questions about what owning an autonomous vehicle would really mean. Especially in terms of their pocketbooks.

Economic impacts: For rural communities, purchasing is a challenge and ridesharing is viable

A semi-autonomous vehicle on the market today runs for $80,000 to $100,000. You can buy a nice house in Hancock for that much. Plus, people find it difficult to put a price on the experiences and pride they invest in their cars. In the Keweenaw—and most likely other rural communities with a strong outdoorsy streak—abandoning Google maps and getting off the beaten path is important. More than one participant asked, how will I get to my camp? And how the heck would an autonomous car deal with an unplowed backroad?

"Even if you have a great autonomous vehicle, and its algorithms, its hardware are good enough to run even in this environment [waves hand to window], people were still concerned about them; they didn't seem interested at all in a car that didn't have a steering wheel."

Jon Pyles, engineering management major

Even though researchers are working on those challenges, the likelihood is low for autonomous vehicles that are individually owned, camp-trekking, blizzard busting and spacious enough for the family dog. That's why the team looked into the potential for co-use and co-ownership models such as ridesharing.

The economics of it are simple and would be something like a mix of ZipCars and Uber; a municipality would own a fleet and rent them out. For rural communities—and even snowy remote communities like the Keweenaw—autonomous vehicles offer the chance to rethink transportation access and safety.

This story originally appeared on Unscripted, Michigan Tech's research blog. mtu.edu/unscripted

X
X
X
  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Self-Assembling 3D Battery Would Charge in Seconds

A cross-campus collaboration led by Ulrich Wiesner, professor of engineering at Cornell University, has resulted in a novel energy storage device architecture that has the potential for lightning-quick charges for electronic devices.

Understanding the Generation of Light-Induced Electrical Current in Atomically Thin Nanomaterials

Scientists added an imaging capability to Brookhaven Lab's Center for Functional Nanomaterials that could provide the optoelectronic information needed to improve the performance of devices for power generation, communications, data storage, and lighting.

Diamond 'Spin-Off' Tech Could Lead to Low-Cost Medical Imaging and Drug Discovery Tools

An international team led by scientists at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley discovered how to exploit defects in nanoscale and microscale diamonds and potentially enhance the sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance systems while eliminating the need for their costly and bulky superconducting magnets.

PROSPECTing For Antineutrinos

The Precision Reactor Oscillation and Spectrum Experiment (PROSPECT) has completed installation of a novel antineutrino detector that will probe the possible existence of a new form of matter - sterile neutrinos.

How to Cope with Cases of Mistaken Identity: MINERvA's Tale of Pions and Neutrinos

Neutral pion production is a major character in a story of mistaken identity worthy of an Agatha Christie novel.

Perfecting the Noise-Canceling Neutrino Detector

MicroBooNE neutrino experiment cuts through the noise, clearing the way for signals made by the hard-to-detect particle.

Supersonic Waves May Help Electronics Beat the Heat

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory made the first observations of waves of atomic rearrangements, known as phasons, propagating supersonically through a vibrating crystal lattice--a discovery that may dramatically improve heat transport in insulators and enable new strategies for heat management in future electronics devices.

Riding Bacterium to the Bank

Jet fuel, pantyhose and plastic soda bottles are all products currently derived from petroleum. Sandia National Laboratories scientists have demonstrated a new technology based on bioengineered bacteria that makes it feasible to produce all three from renewable plant sources.

Flexible, Highly Efficient Multimodal Energy Harvesting

A piezoelectric ceramic foam supported by a flexible polymer support provides a 10-fold increase in the ability to harvest mechanical and thermal energy over standard piezo composites, according to Penn State researchers.

PNNL Successfully Vitrifies Three Gallons of Radioactive Tank Waste

News Release RICHLAND, Wash. -- In a first-of-its-kind demonstration, researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have vitrified low-activity waste from underground storage tanks at Hanford, immobilizing the radioactive and chemical materials within a durable glass waste form.Approximately three gallons of low-activity Hanford tank waste were vitrified at PNNL's Radiochemical Processing Laboratory in April.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Power to the People

The University of Utah College of Engineering has received a $2 million grant to create a laboratory and develop new technology for communities with backup power sources, known as microgrids, so they can quickly and more securely operate in the event of a massive power outage due to a natural disaster or cyberattack.

The U. S. Department of Energy Announces $34 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced that the Department of Energy will award 219 grants totaling $34 million to 183 small businesses in 41 states. Funded through DOE's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, today's selections are for Phase I research and development.

Raising the Heat to Lower the Cost of Solar Energy

Sandia National Laboratories will receive $10.5 million from the Department of Energy to research and design a cheaper and more efficient solar energy system.The work focuses on refining a specific type of utility-scale solar energy technology that uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on a tower.

Solar Turbines, Inc. Selects Penn State to Establish Center of Excellence in Gas Turbines

After completing an extensive evaluation of institutions of higher learning in the United States and Europe, Solar Turbines Incorporated has chosen Penn State as a university partner to establish a center of excellence in gas turbines. The center involves numerous faculty across Penn State's College of Engineering.

ORNL Facility Receives American Nuclear Society's Historic Landmark Designation

The American Nuclear Society has designated the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory an ANS Nuclear Historic Landmark, recognizing more than 50 years of isotope production and nuclear fuel cycle research.

Steven Cowley named director of DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Steven Cowley, a theoretical physicist and international authority on fusion energy, has been named director of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), effective July 1.

Scientists Turn X-ray Laser Into World's Fastest Water Heater

Scientists have used a powerful X-ray laser at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to heat water from room temperature to 100,000 degrees Celsius in less than a tenth of a picosecond, or millionth of a millionth of a second.

PNNL Part of a New National Center for Near-Atomic Resolution of Biological Molecules

A collaboration between the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oregon Health & Science University has been chosen as a national center for a Nobel Prize-winning method of imaging, cryo-electron microscopy, that is revolutionizing structural biology.

SLAC Will Open One of Three NIH National Service Centers for Cryo-Electron Microscopy

The National Institutes of Health announced today that it will establish a national service and training center for cryogenic electron microscopy research at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Planck Collaboration Wins 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize

The Planck Team--including researchers in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Computational Research and Physics divisions--have been awarded the 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

The Secret to Measuring an Antineutrino's Energy

Scientists are developing better models that describe both neutrino and antineutrino data, which can offer insights into the nature of the universe.

How to Cope with Cases of Mistaken Identity: MINERvA's Tale of Pions and Neutrinos

Neutral pion production is a major character in a story of mistaken identity worthy of an Agatha Christie novel.

Perfecting the Noise-Canceling Neutrino Detector

MicroBooNE neutrino experiment cuts through the noise, clearing the way for signals made by the hard-to-detect particle.

Keeping Tabs on Polysulfides in Batteries

Optimizing lithium-sulfur battery electrolytes for long life.

Huge "Thermometer" Takes Temperatures of Tiny Samples

New spectroscopic technique measures heat in itty-bitty volumes that could reveal insights for electronics and energy technology.

Water, Water, Everywhere, but How Does It Flow?

Scientists use new X-ray technique to see how water moves at the molecular level.

Magnetized Plasmas That "Twist Light" Can Produce Powerful Microscopes and More

A non-twisting laser beam moving through magnetized plasma turns into an optical vortex that traps, rotates, and controls microscopic particles, opening new frontiers in imaging.

Whistling While You Work: Fusion Scientists Find Inspiration in Atmospheric Whistles

Just like lightning, fusion plasmas contain odd electromagnetic whistler waves that could control destructive electrons in fusion reactors.

Zero Tolerance in Tokamaks: Eliminating Small Instabilities Before They Become Disruptions

Energetic ions and beam heating cause or calm instabilities, depending on the tokamak's magnetic field.

MURR Becomes First Reactor Facility to Join DOE's Isotope Program

DOE and MURR partner to ensure scientists have access to essential research isotopes.


Spotlight

Monday May 07, 2018, 10:30 AM

Introducing Graduate Students Across the Globe to Photon Science

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday May 02, 2018, 04:05 PM

Students from Massachusetts and Washington Win DOE's 28th National Science Bowl(r)

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Thursday April 12, 2018, 07:05 PM

The Race for Young Scientific Minds

Argonne National Laboratory

Wednesday March 14, 2018, 02:05 PM

Q&A: Al Ashley Reflects on His Efforts to Diversify SLAC and Beyond

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday February 15, 2018, 12:05 PM

Insights on Innovation in Energy, Humanitarian Aid Highlight UVA Darden's Net Impact Week

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Friday February 09, 2018, 11:05 AM

Ivy League Graduate, Writer and Activist with Dyslexia Visits CSUCI to Reframe the Concept of Learning Disabilities

California State University, Channel Islands

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

Stairway to Science

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

After-School Energy Rush

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

Argonne National Laboratory

Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

Argonne National Laboratory

Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Tuesday November 08, 2016, 12:05 PM

Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday May 13, 2016, 04:05 PM

More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Monday April 25, 2016, 05:05 PM

Giving Back to National Science Bowl

Ames Laboratory

Friday March 25, 2016, 12:05 PM

NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Tuesday February 02, 2016, 10:05 AM

Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Monday November 16, 2015, 04:05 PM

Rare Earths for Life: An 85th Birthday Visit with Mr. Rare Earth

Ames Laboratory

Tuesday October 20, 2015, 01:05 PM

Meet Robert Palomino: 'Give Everything a Shot!'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Tuesday April 22, 2014, 11:30 AM

University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

University of Utah

Wednesday March 06, 2013, 03:40 PM

Student Innovator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks Brighter, Smarter, and More Efficient LEDs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday November 16, 2012, 10:00 AM

Texas Tech Energy Commerce Students, Community Light up Tent City

Texas Tech University

Wednesday November 23, 2011, 10:45 AM

Don't Get 'Frosted' Over Heating Your Home This Winter

Temple University

Wednesday July 06, 2011, 06:00 PM

New Research Center To Tackle Critical Challenges Related to Aircraft Design, Wind Energy, Smart Buildings

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday April 22, 2011, 09:00 AM

First Polymer Solar-Thermal Device Heats Home, Saves Money

Wake Forest University

Friday April 15, 2011, 12:25 PM

Like Superman, American University Will Get Its Energy from the Sun

American University

Thursday February 10, 2011, 05:00 PM

ARRA Grant to Help Fund Seminary Building Green Roof

University of Chicago

Tuesday December 07, 2010, 05:00 PM

UC San Diego Installing 2.8 Megawatt Fuel Cell to Anchor Energy Innovation Park

University of California San Diego

Monday November 01, 2010, 12:50 PM

Rensselaer Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center Announces First Deployment of New Technology on Campus

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday September 10, 2010, 12:40 PM

Ithaca College Will Host Regional Clean Energy Summit

Ithaca College

Tuesday July 27, 2010, 10:30 AM

Texas Governor Announces $8.4 Million Award to Create Renewable Energy Institute

Texas Tech University

Friday May 07, 2010, 04:20 PM

Creighton University to Offer New Alternative Energy Program

Creighton University

Wednesday May 05, 2010, 09:30 AM

National Engineering Program Seeks Subject Matter Experts in Energy

JETS Junior Engineering Technical Society

Wednesday April 21, 2010, 12:30 PM

Students Using Solar Power To Create Sustainable Solutions for Haiti, Peru

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)





Showing results

0-4 Of 2215