Texas is one step closer to seeing a Houston-to-Dallas driverless truck route on I-45. Photo courtesy of Aurora

Self-driving trucking facility opens in Houston, readies for 2024 launch in Texas

autonomous freight

Houston is emerging as a major player in the evolution of self-driving freight trucks.

In October, Aurora Innovation opened a more than 90,000-square-foot terminal at a Fallbrook Drive logistics hub in northwest Houston to support the launch of its first “lane” for driverless trucks — a Houston-to-Dallas route on I-45. Aurora opened its Dallas-area terminal in April.

Close to half of truck freight in Texas moves along I-45 between Houston and Dallas.

“With this corridor’s launch, we’ve defined, refined, and validated the framework for the expansion of our network with the largest partner ecosystem in the autonomous trucking industry,” Sterling Anderson, co-founder and chief product officer at Pittsburgh-based Aurora, says in a news release.

Aurora produces software that controls autonomous vehicles. The software is installed in trucks from Paccar, whose brands include Kenworth and Peterbilt, and Volvo.

Anderson says its Houston and Dallas terminals came online well ahead of its scheduled launch of driverless trucks between the two cities. The terminals house, maintain, and inspect autonomous trucks.

Aurora currently hauls more than 75 loads per week (under the supervision of vehicle operators) from Houston to Dallas and Fort Worth to El Paso. The company’s customers in its pilot project include FedEx, Uber Freight, and Werner.

“We are on track to launch commercial operations at the end of 2024, with Dallas to Houston serving as our first commercial route,” the company says.

In July, Aurora said it raised $820 million in capital to fuel its growth — growth that’s being accompanied by scrutiny. Self-driving taxi service, Cruise, which recently launched in Houston, has put it in park for the time being.

In light of recent controversies surrounding self-driving vehicles, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, whose union members include over-the-road truckers, recently sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calling for a ban on autonomous vehicles in Texas.

“The Teamsters believe that a human operator is needed in every vehicle — and that goes beyond partisan politics,” the letter states. “State legislators have a solemn duty in this matter to keep dangerous autonomous vehicles off our streets and keep Texans safe. Autonomous vehicles are not ready for prime time, and we urge you to act before someone in our community gets killed.”

Cruise is now cruising some Houston streets. The self-driving car service has launched with $5 flat-rate rides. Photo courtesy of Cruise

Fleet of self-driving electric vehicles rolls out to transport Houstonians

automated EV

For the first time, Houstonians can hail an autonomous electric vehicle to get from point A to point B, thanks to a tech company's latest market roll out.

San Francisco-based Cruise, which has launched in its hometown, Phoenix, and Austin over the past year and a half, previously announced Houston and Dallas as the company's next stops. Dallas, where Cruise is currently undergoing testing, will roll out its service by the end of the year.

As of October 12, Houstonians in the Downtown, Midtown, East Downtown, Montrose, Hyde Park, and River Oaks neighborhoods can hail a ride from an autonomous electric vehicle seven days a week between the hours of 9 pm to 6 am.

"We believe that everyone has a right to safer, more accessible and more affordable transportation, and we remain focused on cities first because that’s where our mission will have the greatest impact. Houston follows that city-first strategy with its densely traversed downtown, propensity for ridehail, and vibrant cultural center," Sola Lawal, Cruise's Houston manager, tells InnovationMap. "Cruise also shares in Houston’s Vision Zero mission to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030 and we’re excited to address the transportation needs of Houston communities."

Although today marks the launch to the public, Cruise's employees and their friends and family have been testing out the service since August.

"People love this shift from working for your car as the driver, to the car working for you and the time this gives people back in their days," he explains. "A common reaction from first time riders starts with people being shocked and awed for the first two minutes then the ride becomes so normal that you forget you're in a driverless car."

Founded in 2013 by CEO, CTO, and President Kyle Vogt and Chief Product Officer Dan Kan, Cruise vehicles have self-driven over 5 million miles — 1 million of those miles were cruised on Texas streets. The company's fleet includes 400 electric vehicles powered by renewable energy.

Cruise's plan for Houston is to launch and grow from there, including launching larger passenger vehicles, the Origin fleet, for bigger groups of people.

"We always start small and methodically expand from there. For us it’s all about safety and how we expand in partnership with communities, so we let that be our guide for expansion vs arbitrary timelines," Lawal says. "Our goal is to continue to expand as quickly and safely as possible so we can get folks to the Rodeo when it starts and back home, anywhere in Houston, when it ends. You can expect expanded map areas, increased supply of AVs, and expanded hours until we are 24/7 across Houston."

Cruise has raised $10 billion in capital commitments from investors, including General Motors, Honda, Microsoft, T. Rowe Price, Walmart, and others. Additionally, the tech company has also a $5 billion credit line with GM Financial, giving it the financial support needed to scale. Strategically aligned with General Motors and Honda, Cruise has fully integrated manufacturing at scale.

Cruise, which touts a pricing model competitive to existing rideshares, is launching with $5 flat-rate rides for passengers.

"Houstonians who ride with us have the chance to be part of history in the making," Lawal tells Houston's to-be Cruise riders. "The industry has made incredible progress in the last two years but we are still in the early days of what’s to come as driverless ridehail becomes a reality for more people.

"We are proud of the service we’ve built so far and the safety record we have to show for it, but will always continue to improve. We're excited to launch with the community of Houston and we simply ask that you give it a try," he continues. "And when you do please give us feedback, we’d love to hear about your experience."

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

This autonomous freight delivery provider has entered the Texas market. Photo via VAS

Companies in Transition: June 13

ENERGY FOR ALL, BY ALL

As explained at the launch event for EnergyCapitalHTX.com on 1 June by David Gow, CEO of Gow Media, “…we plan to provide informative, unbiased coverage of the Houston-based initiatives, spanning big corporations and startups. We hope that a site dedicated to the transition will bring visibility to the city’s substantive progress and to the path forward.”

This series, Companies in Transition, highlights the latest energy transition activity happening here in the world’s Capital of Energy for companies of all sizes and stages. Natalie Harms, editor of our sister site, Innovation Map, caught up with a couple of such companies making strides last week.

Volvo Group announces new self-driving freight routes across Texas

A global car brand has expanded its autonomous transport-as-a-service company to Texas.

Volvo Autonomous Solutions, or VAS, announced it has established an office in Fort Worth to set up its first self-driving freight corridors between Dallas-Fort Worth and El Paso, as well as from Dallas to Houston. Ahead of commercial launch, VAS has started hauling freight for key customers like DHL and Uber Freight for testing purposes.

"At Volvo Autonomous Solutions, we believe the path to autonomy at scale is through reducing the friction and complications around ownership and operations for customers," says Nils Jaeger, president of VAS, in a news release. "This is why we have taken the decision to be the single interface to our customers and take full ownership of the elements required for commercial autonomous transport. With the opening of our office in Texas and start of operational activities, we are building the foundations for a transport solution that will change the way we move goods on highways."

As a part of the Volvo Group, VAS provides its Autonomous Transport Solutions — a combination of hardware, software, and services — to its customers. The company has a partnership with Aurora, which includes the integration of the Aurora Driver with Volvo's on-highway truck offering.

To learn more about how Volvo is building efficiency for the entire supply chain, head on over to InnovationMap to read more.

Multinational manufacturer partners with Greentown for new startup accelerator

A climatetech incubator with locations in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, has announced an accelerator program with a corporate partner.

Greentown Labs and Saint-Gobain, a multinational manufacturer and distributor of high-performance materials, have opened applications for Greentown Go Build 2023. The program intends to support and accelerate startup-corporate partnerships to advance climatetech, specifically focused on circularity and decarbonizing the built environment per a news release from Greentown.

“The Greentown Go Build program is an opportunity for innovative startups to share how they are disrupting the construction market with innovative and sustainable solutions that address the need for circularity and sustainability and that align with our mission of making the world a better home,” says Minas Apelian, vice president of external and internal venturing at Saint-Gobain. “Through this program, we are eager to identify companies dedicated to reducing our reliance on raw materials and associated supply chain risk to ensure circular solutions result in profitable, sustainable growth for business and sustainable construction solutions for our industries.”

Find out if your company is a fit for this prestigious opportunity over at InnovationMap.


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

LOOK MA, NO DRIVER

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."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

global greenlight

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”

Houston organization celebrates zero waste goal

earth day win

Discovery Green celebrated Earth Day with a major milestone this year — achieving it’s Zero Waste goal.

The nonprofit, along with Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and Houston Public Works, are announced that the 2024 Green Mountain Energy Earth Day, which generated more than 3,800 pounds of garbage, diverted the majority of that waste from landfills. "Zero Waste," as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is successfully diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill.

On Earth Day, Discovery Green composted 2,200 pounds of waste and recycled 1,300 pounds of trash.

“Part of Discovery Green Conservancy’s mission is to serve as a village green for our city and be a source of health and happiness for all. Our goal is to sustain an exceptional environment for nature and people,” Discover Green President Kathryn Lott says in a news release. “We are beyond thrilled to have achieved Zero Waste certification.”

The achievement was made possible by volunteers from the University of Houston – Downtown.

Steve Stelzer, president of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition’s board of directors, acknowledged how rare the achievement is in a public space in a major city like Houston.

“Discovery Green Conservancy stepped up and made a commitment to weigh, measure and record everything. They should be congratulated to have done this at this scale,” Stelzer adds. “The Conservancy said they were going to do it and they did. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”

The 2024 event included:

  • 31,000 visitors in attendance
  • 60 + exhibitors
  • 100 + volunteers
  • 12 artists
    • 9 chalk artists
    • Donkeeboy and Donkeemom
    • Mark Bradford
  • 25 Mark Bradford artworks made of scrap presented in partnership with Houston First
  • 4 short films shown
  • 3,836.7 pounds of waste collected during Green Mountain Energy Earth Day

Texas hydrogen research hub opens to support statewide, DOE-backed initiative

hi to hydrogen

A Texas school has cut the ribbon on a new hydrogen-focused research facility that will play a role in a statewide, Department of Energy-funded energy transition initiative.

The Center for Electromechanics at The University of Texas, Frontier Energy, Inc., and GTI Energy celebrated the grand opening of a hydrogen research and demonstration facility in Austin as part of the “Demonstration and Framework for H2@Scale in Texas and Beyond” project, which is supported by the DOE's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

The hydrogen proto-hub is first-of-its-kind and part of Texas-wide initiative for a cleaner hydrogen economy and will feature contributions from organizations throughout the state. The facility will generate zero-carbon hydrogen by using water electrolysis powered by solar and wind energy, and steam methane reformation of renewable natural gas from a Texas landfill.

The hydrogen will be used to power a stationary fuel cell for power for the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and it will also supply zero-emission fuel to cell drones and a fleet of Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicles. This method will mark the first time that multiple renewable hydrogen supplies and uses have been networked at one location to show an economical hydrogen ecosystem that is scalable.

“The H2@Scale in Texas project builds on nearly two decades of UT leadership in hydrogen research and development” Michael Lewis, Research Scientist, UT Austin Center for Electromechanics, say in a news release. “With this facility, we aim to provide the educated workforce and the engineering data needed for success. Beyond the current project, the hydrogen research facility is well-positioned for growth and impact in the emerging clean hydrogen industry.”

Over 20 sponsors and industry stakeholders are involved and include Houston-based partners in Center for Houston’s Future and Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy. Industry heavyweights like Chevron, Toyota, ConocoPhillips, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are also part of the effort.

Texas hydrogen infrastructure and wind and solar resources position the state for clean hydrogen production, as evident in the recently released study, “A Framework for Hydrogen in Texas.” The study was part of a larger effort that started in 2020 with the H2@Scale project, which aims to develop clearer paths to renewable hydrogen as a “clean and cost-effective fuel” according to a news release. The facility will serve as an academic research center, and a model for future large-scale hydrogen deployments.

Participants in the DOE-funded HyVelocity Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub will aim to gain insights from the H2@Scale project at UT Austin. The project will build towards a development of a comprehensive hydrogen network across the region. HyVelocity is a hub that includes AES Corporation, Air Liquide, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi Power Americas, Orsted, and Sempra Infrastructure. The GTI Energy administered HyVelocity involves The University of Texas at Austin, the Center for Houston’s Future, and Houston Advanced Research Center.

“H2@Scale isn't just about producing low-carbon energy, it's about creating clean energy growth opportunities for communities throughout Texas and the nation,” Adam Walburger, president of Frontier Energy, says in a news release. “By harnessing renewable energy resources to create zero-carbon hydrogen, we can power homes, businesses, transportation, and agriculture – all while creating jobs and reducing emissions.”