Here are five things to know from CERAWeek this year. Photo courtesy of CERAWeek

The 2024 edition of CERAWeek by S&P Global wrapped up last Friday in Houston, and a handful of themes emerged as topical and disruptive amid the energy transition.

Here are five takeaways from the conference, according to EnergyCapital reporting.

Funding the energy transition continues to be a challenge.

Photo courtesy of CERAWeek

The biggest obstacle to the energy transition is — and might always be — funding it. A panel at Agora on Thursday, March 21, moderated by Barbara Burger set out to discuss the role of venture capital amid the future of energy.

Daniel Goldman, managing partner at Clean Energy Ventures, said that the first plants for these new, revolutionary technologies are going to be more expensive than its subsequent plants.

"But you have to built it," Goldman says. "'First of a kind' can be very different from the end plant, because you need to manage risk. ... But those first plants are going to be quite costly, and you're going to have to recognize that as an investor."

Microsoft and Breakthrough Ventures Founder Bill Gates would address this in his talk later that day, pointing out that traditional infrastructure investors are used to knowing what a plant would cost before its built. But in clean tech, outside of solar and wind, there's too much unknown to give the estimation those investors are looking for.

"Nothing's at the maturity level that you can do that," Gates says.

The DOE's role of de-risking green tech.

Photo courtesy of CERAWeek

The United States Department of Energy had a significant presence at CERAWeek, with Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm making two major announcements on Monday, March 18, the first day of the conference. One of the announcements was the DOE's latest Pathways to Commercial Liftoff report, which are initiatives established to provide investors with information of how specific energy technologies commercialize and what challenges they each have to overcome as they scale.

"We develop these Liftoff Reports through a combination of modeling and hundreds and hundreds of interviews with people across the whole investment lifecycle—from early-stage capital to commercial banks and institutional investors," Granholm says in her address, announcing geothermal energy as the subject of the ninth report.

Intended to "create a common fact base and a tool for ongoing dialogue with the private sector on the pathways to commercial liftoff," according to the DOE, these reports can be instrumental for enterprises in the field.

A panel at Agora on Thursday, March 21, featuring geothermal energy innovators discussed the impact of the report. Tim Latimer, CEO and founder of Houston-based Fervo Energy, says the report included details from his company's work.

To Latimer, the report showcases geothermal energy's ability to compete from a cost perspective.

"I think geothermal is already winning that cost discussion," Latimer says. "You're talking about $45 per megawatt hour unsubsidized cost for round-the-clock, 24/7 carbon-free energy. I think that's an achievable ambition the DOE set out, and I think it's an unbeatable value proposition.

Hot topic: Geothermal energy.

Photo courtesy of CERAWeek

Geothermal energy was discussed throughout the week following Granholm's address, in part because of its expected cost efficiency, but also because it's a type of energy that should provide a smooth transition from traditional oil and gas.

John Redfern, CEO of Eavor Technologies, global geothermal technology company headquartered in Canada, says on the geothermal panel that the geothermal industry can build off existing infrastructure.

"Most of it is building blocks that we're recycling from the oil industry — resources, people, technologies," Redfern says. "So, it's more about implementing rather than inventing some new, novel product."

Latimer agrees, adding that Fervo "is fully in the deployment phase."

"The breakthrough needed to make geothermal ready for primetime have already happened," Latimer says.

AI is everywhere — especially the energy transition.

Photo courtesy of CERAWeek

The topic of artificial intelligence was everywhere, so much that by Thursday, panelists joked about every discussion including at least one mention of the technology.

Gates was one speaker who addresses the subject, which isn't all too surprising, since Microsoft owns a portion of OpenAI, which created ChatGPT. One thing left to be known is how directly AI will affect the energy transition — and on what timeline.

AI's current applications are within white collar activities, Gates explains, citing writing a regulatory permit or looking at evidence in a lawsuit. He explains that current AI capabilities could continually grow or remain stagnant for a while, he isn't sure.

"The thing that’s daunting is we don’t know how quickly it will improve," he adds.

Gates didn't comment on energy specific AI applications but noted that AI has advanced far past robotics, which would target blue collar roles.

Big tech sees green.

Photo courtesy of CERAWeek

And speaking of AI, big tech companies have been making moves to lower carbon footprints, and that was made clear by the activations at CERAWeek. Microsoft and Amazon each had designated houses at the conference, alongside Oxy, Chevron, Aramco, and other traditional energy players.

At Microsoft, Houston-based Amperon, which recently announced a partnership with the tech company, presented and pitched their company. The Microsoft and Amazon houses showcased each company's low-carbon technologies.

Hear from guest columnist Onega Ulanova on AI and quality management systems in manufacturing. Photo via Getty Images

Expert: How AI is disrupting manufacturing and the future of quality management systems

guest column

The concept of quality management is so intrinsic to modern manufacturing — and yet so little understood by the general public — and has literally revolutionized our world over the past hundred years.

Yet, in the present day, quality management and the related systems that guide its implementation are far from static. They are continuously-evolving, shifting to ever-changing global conditions and new means of application unleashed by technological innovation.

Now, more than ever, they are essential for addressing and eliminating not only traditional sources of waste in business, such as lost time and money, but also the physical and pollutant waste that threatens the world we all inhabit.

But what are quality management systems, or QMS, exactly? Who created them, and how have they evolved over time? Perhaps most pressingly, where can they be of greatest help in the present world, and when can they be implemented by businesses in need of change and improvement?

In this article, we will explore the history of QMS, explain their essential role in today’s manufacturing practices, and examine how these systems will take us into the future of productivity.

Quality Management Systems: A Definition

In the United States and globally, the gold standard of quality management standards and practices is the American Society for Quality. This preeminent organization, with over 4,000 members in 130 countries, was established in 1946 and has guided practices and implementation of quality management systems worldwide.

The Society defines a quality management system as “a formalized system that documents processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives,” and further states that “a QMS helps coordinate and direct an organization’s activities to meet customer and regulatory requirements and improve its effectiveness and efficiency on a continuous basis.”

From this definition, it can be understood that a good quality management system’s purpose is to establish the conditions for consistent and ever-increasing improvement through the use of standardized business culture practices.

Which QMS Standards are Most Widely Used?

The results of quality management’s remarkable growth since the 1940s has led to the rise of a number of widely-used standards, which can serve as the basis for companies and organizations to design and implement their own practices. Most of these modern quality management standards are globally recognized, and are specifically tailored to ensure that a company’s newly-developed practices include essential elements that can increase the likelihood of success.

The most widely-known entity which has designed such guidance is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a global organization which develops and publishes technical standards. Since the 1980s, the ISO has provided the 9000 series of standards (the most famous of which is 9001:2015) which outline how organizations can satisfy the checklists of quality management requirements and create their own best practices.

In 2020, over 1.2 million organizations worldwide were officially certified by the ISO for their quality management implementation practices.

However, it should be understood that the ISO 9000 standards are merely guidelines for the design and implementation of a quality management system; they are not systems in and of themselves.

Furthermore, the ISO is far from the only relevant player in this field. Many industry-specific standards, such as the American Petroleum Institute’s API Q1 standard, have been developed to target the highly specialized needs of particular business practices of oil and gas industry. These industry-specific standards are generally aligned with the ISO 9000 standards, and serve as complimentary additional guidance, rather than a replacement. It is entirely possible, and in many cases desirable, for a company to receive both ISO certification and certification from an industry-specific standards body, as doing so can help ensure the company’s newly-developed QMS procedures are consistent with both broad and specialized best practices.

A History of Quality Management

The concept of quality management is intrinsically tied to the development of industrial production. Previous to the industrial revolution, the concept of ‘quality’ was inherently linked to the skill and effort of craftspeople, or in other words, individual laborers trained in specialized fields who, either individually or in small groups, produced goods for use in society.

Whether they were weaving baskets or building castles, these craftspeople were primarily defined by a skill that centered them in a specific production methodology, and it was the mastery of this skill which determined the quality. Guilds of craftspeople would sign their works, placing a personal or group seal on the resulting product and thereby accepting accountability for its quality.

Such signatures and marks are found dating back at least 4,500 years to the construction of Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, and came into widespread practice in medieval Europe with the rise of craft guilds.

In these early confederations of workers, a person’s mastery of a skill or craft could become a defining part of their identity and life, to the extent that many craftspeople of 13th Century Europe lived together in communal settings, while the Egyptian pyramid workers may have belonged to life-long ‘fraternities’ who returned, year after year, to fulfill their roles in ‘work gangs’.

However, in the Industrial Revolution, craft and guild organizations were supplanted by factories. Though ancient and medieval projects at times reached monumental scale, the rise of thousands of factories, each requiring human and machine contributions to generate masses of identical products, required a completely different scale of quality management.

The emphasis on mass production necessitated the use of workers who were no longer crafts masters, and thus resulted in a decrease in the quality of products. This in turn necessitated the rise of the product inspection system, which was steadily refined from the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1760 into the early 20th century.

However, inspection was merely a system of quality control, rather than quality management; in other words, simply discarding defective products did not in and of itself increase total product quality or reduce waste.

As influential American engineer Joseph M. Juran explained, in 1920s-era America, it was common to throw away substantial portions of produced inventory due to defects, and when Juran prompted inspectors at his employer’s company to do something, they refused, saying it was the responsibility of the production line to improve. Quality control, in and of itself, would not yield quality management.

As is often the case in human history, war was the driver of change. In World War II, the mobilization of millions of American workers into wartime roles coincided with the need to produce greater quantities of high-quality products than ever before.

To counteract the loss of skilled factory labor, the United States government implemented the Training Within Industry program, which utilized 10-hour courses to educate newly-recruited workers in how to conduct their work, evaluate their efficiency, and suggest improvements. Similar training programs for the trainers themselves were also developed. By the end of the war, more than 1.6 million workers had been certified under the Training Within Industry program.

Training Within Industry represented one of the first successful implementations of quality management systems, and its impact was widely felt after the end of the war. In the ashes of conflict, the United States and the other Allied Powers were tasked with helping to rebuild the economies of the other wartime combatants. Nowhere was this a more pressing matter than Japan, which had seen widespread economic devastation and had lost 40 percent of all its factories. Further complicating the situation was the reality that, then as now, Japan lacked sufficient natural resources to serve its economic scale.

And yet, within just 10 years of the war’s end, Japan’s economy war growing twice as fast per year than it had been before the fighting started. The driver of this miraculous turnaround was American-derived quality management practices, reinterpreted and implemented with Japanese ingenuity.

In modern business management, few concepts are as renowned, and oft-cited for success, as kaizen. This Japanese word, which simply means “improvement,” is the essential lesson and driver of Japan’s postwar economic success.

Numerous books written outside Japan have attempted to explain kaizen’s quality management principles, often by citing them as being ‘distinctly Japanese.’ Yet, the basis for kaizen is actually universal and applicable in any culture or context; it is, simply put, an emphasis on remaining quality-focused and open to evolution. The development of kaizen began in the post-war period when American statistician William Edwards Deming was brought to Japan as part of the US government’s rebuilding efforts.

A student of earlier quality management thought leaders, Deming instructed hundreds of Japanese engineers, executives, and scholars, urging them to place statistical analysis and human relationships at the center of their management practices. Deming used statistics to track the number and origin of product defects, as well to analyze the effectiveness of remedies. He also reinstated a key idea of the craftsperson creed: that the individual worker is not just a set of hands performing a task, but a person who can, with time, improve both the self and the whole of the company.

Deming was not alone in these efforts; the aforementioned Joseph M. Juran, who came to Japan as part of the rebuilding program several years later, also gave numerous lectures expounding similar principles.

Like Deming, Juran had previously tried to impart these approaches to American industry, but the lessons often fell on deaf ears. Japanese managers, however, took the lessons to heart and soon began crafting their own quality management systems.

Kaoru Ishikawa, who began by translating the works of Deming and Juran into Japanese, was one of the crucial players who helped to create the ideas now known as kaizen. He introduced a bottom-up approach where workers from every part of the product life cycle could initiate change, and popularized Deming’s concept of quality circles, where small groups of workers would meet regularly to analyze results and discuss improvements.

By 1975, Japanese product quality, which had once been regarded as poor, had transformed into world-class thanks to the teachings of Deming, Juran, and kaizen.

By the 1980s, American industry had lost market share and quality prestige to Japan. It was now time for US businesses to learn from Deming and Juran, both of whom at last found a receptive audience in their home country. Deming in particular achieved recognition for his role in the influential 1980 television documentary If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?, in which he emphasized the universal applicability of quality management.

So too did kaizen, which influenced a new generation of global thought leaders. Arising out of this rapid expansion of QMS were new systems in the 1970s and ‘80s, including the Six Sigma approach pioneered by Bill Smith and Motorola in 1987. Ishikawa, who saw his reputation and life transformed as his ideas spread worldwide, eventually summed up the explanation as the universality of human nature and its desire to improve. As Ishikawa said, “wherever they are, human beings are human beings”.

In no small part due to the influence of the thought leaders mentioned, quality management systems are today a cornerstone of global business practice. So influential are the innovators of these systems that they are often called ‘gurus.’ But what are the specific benefits of these systems, and how best can they be implemented?

How QMS Benefits Organizations, and the World

The oft-cited benefits of quality management systems are operational efficiency, employee retention, and reduction of waste. From all of these come improvements to the company’s bottom line and reputation. But far from being dry talking points, each benefit not only serves its obvious purpose, but also can dramatically help benefit the planet itself.

Operational efficiency is the measurement, analysis, and improvement of processes which occur within an organization, with the purpose of utilizing data and consideration to eliminate or mediate any areas where current practices are not effective.

Quality management systems can increase operational efficiency by utilizing employee analysis and feedback to quickly identify areas where improvements are possible, and then to guide their implementation.

In a joint study conducted in 2017 by Forbes and the American Society for Quality, 56 percent of companies stated that improving operational efficiency was a top concern; in the same survey, 59 percent of companies received direct benefit to operations by utilizing quality management system practices, making it the single largest area of improvement across all business types.

Because operational improvements inherently reduce both waste and cost, conducting business in a fully-optimized manner can simultaneously save unnecessary resource expenditure, decrease pollutants and discarded materials, and retain more money which the company can invest into further sustainable practices. Efficiency is itself a kind of ‘stealth sustainability’ that turns a profit-focused mindset into a generator of greater good. It is this very point that the

United States government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has emphasized in their guidance for Environmental Management Systems (EMS). These quality management system guidelines, tailored specifically to benefit operational efficiency in a business setting, are also designed to benefit the global environment by utilizing quality management practices.

Examples in the EPA’s studies in preparing these guidelines showcased areas where small companies could reduce environmental waste, while simultaneously reducing cost, in numerous areas. These added to substantial reductions and savings, such as a 15 percent waste water reduction which saved a small metal finishing company $15,000 per year.

Similarly, a 2020 study by McKinsey & Company identified ways that optimizing operations could dramatically aid a company’s sustainability with only small outlays of capital, thereby making environmental benefit a by-product of improved profitability.

Employee retention, and more broadly the satisfaction of employees, is another major consideration of QMS. Defined simply, retention is not only the maintenance of a stable workforce without turnover, but the improvement of that workforce with time as they gain skill, confidence, and ability for continued self and organizational improvement. We may be in the post-Industrial Revolution, but thanks to the ideas of QMS, some of the concept of the craftsperson has returned to modern thinking; the individual, once more, has great value.

Quality management systems aid employee retention by allowing the people of an organization to have a direct hand in its improvement. In a study published in 2023 by the journal Quality Innovation Prosperity, 40 percent of organizations which implemented ISO 9001 guidance for the creation of a QMS reported that the process yielded greater employee retention.

A crucial success factor for employee satisfaction is how empowered the employee feels to apply judgment. According to a 2014 study by the Harvard Business Review, companies which set clear guidelines, protect and celebrate employee proposals for quality improvement, and clearly communicate the organization’s quality message while allowing the employees to help shape and implement it, have by far the highest engagement and retention rates. The greatest successes come from cultures where peer-driven approaches increase employee engagement, thereby eliminating preventable employee mistakes. Yet the same study also pointed out that nearly half of all employees feel their company’s leadership lacks a clear emphasis on quality, and only 10 percent felt their company’s existing quality statements were truthful and viable.

Then as now, the need to establish a clear quality culture, to manage and nurture that culture, and to empower the participants is critical to earning the trust of the employee participants and thereby retaining workers who in time can become the invaluable craftspeople of today.

Finally, there is the reduction of waste. Waste can be defined in many ways: waste of time, waste of money, waste of resources. The unifying factor in all definitions is the loss of something valuable, and irretrievable. All inevitably also lead to the increase of another kind of waste: pollution and discarded detritus which steadily ruin our shared planet.

Reducing waste with quality management can take many forms, but ultimately, all center on the realization of strategies which use only what is truly needed. This can mean both operational efficiencies and employee quality, as noted above. The Harvard Business Review survey identified that in 2014, the average large company (having 26,000 employees or more) loses a staggering $350 million each year due to preventable employee errors, many of which could be reduced, mitigated, or eliminated entirely with better implementation of quality management.

This is waste on an almost unimaginable financial scale. Waste eliminated through practices which emphasize efficiency and sustainability, as noted in the McKinsey & Company study, can also yield tremendous savings. In one example, a company which purchased asphalt and previously prioritized only the per-ton price found that, when examining the logistical costs of transporting the asphalt from distant suppliers, they were actually paying more than if they purchased it locally. The quality management analysis they performed yielded them a cost savings, and eliminated 40 percent of the carbon emissions associated with the asphalt’s procurement. In this case, not only was wasteful spending eliminated, but literal waste (pollution) was prevented.

In taking these steps, companies can meaningfully improve their bottom lines, while at the same time doing something worthwhile and beneficial for the planet. That, in turn, helps burnish their reputations. A remarkable plurality of consumers, 88 percent of Americans surveyed in a 2017 study to be exact, said they would be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues.

It is therefore clear that any steps a company can take which save money, improve worker satisfaction, and yield increased positivity in the marketplace are well worth pursuing.

What is the Future of QMS?

Until the 2000s, quality management systems were just that: systems of desirable practices, outlined by individuals and implemented individually. That was the age of the gurus: the visionaries who outlined the systems. But what that age lacked was a practical and easy means for companies, sometimes located far away from direct guidance by the gurus, to implement their teachings.

In the intervening years, technology has radically changed that dynamic. Today, QMS software fills the marketplace, allowing businesses small and large to design and guide their quality management plans. But even these software solutions have not yet solved the last great challenge: personalized assistance in putting standards into practice.

That is why the latest innovations, particularly in artificial intelligence, have the potential to upend the equation. Already, major companies have started to use artificial intelligence in connection with QMS datasets managed by software, utilizing the programs for statistical analysis, suggested improvements, and even prediction of potential faults before they occur.

These are immensely valuable opportunities, hence why huge players such as Honeywell are spending billions of dollars to bring innovative AI technology companies into their platforms to refine existing QMS systems.

But while AI has already begun to significantly affect the biggest players, small and mid-sized companies remain eager, but not yet able, to take full advantage. It is thus the next great revolution for a new evolution of QMS, one which will bring these emerging technologies to all companies, regardless of size or scale. The future of QMS, and therefore the future of efficiency in business, rests upon this shift from companies being the recipients of ‘guru knowledge,’ to themselves being the designers of their own quality-minded futures.


Onega Ulanova is the CEO of QMS2GO, a provider of quality management systems leveraging AI in manufacturing.

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

As the world becomes more reliant on renewable energy, artificial intelligence is proving to be a major game-changer. Photo via Getty Images

How AI technology is advancing a low-carbon future

the view from heti

In the midst of a continuously changing global energy landscape, industry experts, leading energy companies and corporations have rallied together for one common goal: to reach net zero by 2050. As the demand for energy increases, so does the urgency to develop more energy efficient technologies that reduce emissions.

As the world becomes more reliant on renewable energy, artificial intelligence is proving to be a major game-changer. AI is one of the world’s largest disruptors in tech to date with some tech giants pouring millions into research surrounding AI technologies.

While artificial intelligence may not be the first thing to come to mind when talking about the energy industry, it’s already proven its value in fueling the energy transition in multiple domains: improving renewable energy forecasting, grid operations, materials innovation and more. Companies like Accenture have shown how artificial intelligence can play a huge role in steering the energy transition toward a more efficient future.

As a technology services provider, Accenture bridges the gap between technology and human ingenuity to solve some of the world’s most complex issues. With more than 15 years of leadership in metaverse-related technology and more than 1,400 patents, the Accenture Metaverse team brings together metaverse-skilled professionals and market-leading capabilities across Accenture.

The Dublin, Ireland-based company recently announced plans to invest more than $3 billion in artificial intelligence and double its AI-related staff to accommodate demands. Accenture also plans to use generative AI for client work and launch an AI Navigator for Enterprise platform to help guide AI strategy, use cases, decision-making and policy.

With decades of investments and patents, Accenture is no stranger to AI. The company also recently introduced their Net Zero Metaverse, an immersive experience that allows users to explore the future of energy, at the third annual Future of Global Energy conference hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative presented by Chevron. The innovative software system consists of multiple digital worlds including a Charge Stations of the Future, Energy Transition Igloo, a Space Lab and Hydrogen Heights, a renewable-powered neighborhood named after The Heights of Houston.

While Accenture is helping to shift to a more sustainable future, three ways that AI software has already transformed the way we generate, distribute and consume energy are through smart grids, optimized electricity consumption and electricity mobility.

Smart Grids
AI technology can help optimize the efficiency of smart grids, reducing the number of outages and mitigating impact for both residential and commercial customers. In its ability to analyze data collected by smart grids, AI can predict the demand of energy and adjust the flow of electricity accordingly.

Optimized electricity consumption
According to the World Economic Forum, reducing carbon emissions in buildings will be critical to achieving net zero emissions by 2050; buildings represent 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions. AI powered smart buildings and homes can help to reduce energy consumption and operating costs. With the ability to analyze data from sensors and other sources, AI software can identify patterns, predict equipment failures and maintenance needs and help building managers schedule maintenance repairs more efficiently.

Electricity mobility
According to the Congressional Budget Office, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States with CO2 emissions representing about 97% of the global warming potential of all greenhouse emissions. AI software plays a key role in monitoring driving conditions, speed and load levels predicting the most efficient way to use available energy. AI software also helps in safety management and aids in the race to a pollution-free eco-friendly environment.

While AI technology is still advancing, and there is uncertainty in its accuracy, this breakthrough technology is shaping the future of society offering new approaches to optimize energy systems’ operation and reliability.

Learn more about what companies like Accenture are doing with AI technologies.


This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit

Soon, you'll be able to cruise to your destination without a driver in Houston. Photo via Cruise/Facebook

Self-driving rideshare company cruises its robotaxies into Houston


A new driverless ridehail service is coming to Houston: Cruise, the all-electric, driverless car company backed by GM, is expanding in Texas with launches in both Dallas and the Bayou City.

This follows an initial launch in Austin in 2022, their first city in Texas.

Cruise builds and operates driverless vehicles that you can call via an app, like any other ride hailing service. "But our vehicles show up without anyone else inside," they say.

The entire fleet is all-electric and the vehicles are equipped with a 360-view, with the ability to react to whatever they encounter on the road.

They test their vehicles using simulations, through millions of scenarios and virtual miles; they’ve also driven more than 4 million real miles, mostly in San Francisco.

They have not defined what the cost will be but according to The Verge, the rates in San Francisco vary depending on length of trip and time of day: "A customer taking a 1.3-mile trip would pay 90 cents per mile and 40 cents per minute, in addition to a $5 base fee and 1.5 percent city tax, for a total of $8.72." By comparison, an Uber ride for the same trip would cost at least $10.41.

The company was founded in 2013 and vehicles began to hit the road in 2022. They operate a total fleet of roughly 300 all-electric AVs, powered 100 percent by renewable energy. In addition to Austin, they operate in San Francisco and Phoenix, where they've completed 35,000 self-driving deliveries in a partnership with Walmart.

According to a statement from CEO Kyle Vogt, they'll begin supervised driving (with a safety driver behind the wheel) in Houston as they finetune their AI technology to understand the nuances and unique elements of the city, with Dallas to follow shortly after.

In a blog post, Vogt says their cars drive the speed limit and come to a complete stop at every stop sign. They respond to police sirens, flashing lights on fire trucks or ambulances, and stop signs that fold out of school buses.

They react to people on scooters, people using bike lanes, and cars driving on the wrong side of the road. "In short, they are designed to drive safely by obeying the law and driving in a humanlike way," he says. Actually, that sounds better than humans.

When vehicles encounter a situation where they aren’t 100 percent sure of what to do, they slow down or stop and pull over to the side of the road. This has caused some bumps in San Francisco where cars stopped and idled in the street for no apparent reason, delaying bus riders and disrupting the work of firefighters.

Some of the "bumps" have been comical, such as the 2022 incident in which a confused San Francisco police officer pulled a Cruise over, and then the Cruise drove away.

And as Reuters notes, autonomous vehicles have not rolled out as fast as anticipated, due to regulations, safety investigations, and arduous technology.

When Cruise first enters a city, they hire a mapping and data collection team to learn bike lanes, school zones, and major intersections. But most of the time, the vehicles will be carrying riders in the back seat, or completely empty and en route to another pickup.

The company partners with first responders, including police and fire departments, to ensure they’re ready and familiar with how to interact with the vehicles, engaging with those agencies before and after launch.

"Our guiding mission has always been to improve road safety, reduce emissions, and reduce congestion with our driverless ride-hail service in cities, which is where we’ll see the most significant positive impact the soonest," Vogt says. "Houston and Dallas are committed to reducing traffic deaths as part of their Vision Zero commitments, and we are excited to operate in and partner with these new communities in this shared mission."


This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

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A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”


This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.