It’s probably not cool to nerd out about transportation, but boy howdy did we ever at the Western PA Mobility Showcase hosted by City of Pittsburgh Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI). The Showcase, held in Oakland at Pitt’s Alumni Hall, featured everything from autonomous vehicles to bike-shares to other futuristic stuff like a hyperloop proposal as well as a super sweet electric car.
In a release announcing the event, the Director of DOMI, Karina Ricks, outlined the importance of the Showcase, saying “transportation is radically changing. New choices in travel and new technologies make it cleaner and more convenient than ever. New innovations make headlines every week – many of them originating from our own Southwestern Pennsylvania researchers and industries.” Director Ricks is right, transportation is rapidly evolving. Remember when you couldn’t use an app to just magically ping a nearby car to come pick you up? That was only a few years ago. Remember when you needed someone to actually drive the vehicle you were in? Yeah, that’s a thing of the past! Transportation now is higher-tech and in some ways beyond what we could have ever imagined, or at least that’s what we found at the Mobility Showcase.
So what did we see?
Uber was at the event. If you don’t know Uber by now, then you don’t own a smartphone, probably don’t live in Pittsburgh, or are from the past.
Also, showing off driver-less vehicles were Easymile, Navya, and Local Motes. The three companies all have box-shaped futurist transports similar to the ones found in the film Total Recall. Unrelated to anything in particular, both Easymile and Navya have promo videos with Muzak sounding techno music, and Local Motors went with the classic hard rock. Listen and watch their videos below.
Local Motors’ Ollie…
Walking is fine, we guess, but biking is way faster. The event presented a few two-wheeled options for getting around the Steel City.
Healthy Ride allows you to grab a bike from one of its many docking stations you have probably already seen around the City. Apparently, you can totally use your ConnectCard for free unlimited 15 minute rides. That’ll almost get you from East Liberty to the Strip District.
Bucking the whole bike docking station concept were two other bike-share companies, LimeBike and Spin, that took up opposing corners at the event. Both LimeBike and Spin allow you to get on, ride, and just leave their bikes wherever. It’s similar to what you do with your clothes at the end of the day; you put em on, take em off, and throw them wherever when you get home. Both companies use GPS, self-locking, and apps, but have different looking bikes.
Software and more
Advanced software was used by pretty much everything at the Showcase, but some of the specialized technology on display at the event will change transportation operations and infrastructure going forward.
If you’ve ever sat endlessly at a red light when there is no cross traffic, you will probably be interested in tech from Rapid Flow. The tech company, which spun out from Carnegie Mellon University, has developed a software called Surtrac that uses artificial intelligence to sense traffic conditions. They apparently are already working with the City of Pittsburgh, so hopefully, this flippin’ traffic here in town will soon be a thing of the past.
The University of Pittsburgh showed off its new real-time transit screen, created by the appropriately named TransitScreen. It shows all transportation options in the area from buses to bike-share to Zipcar/Uber/Lyfts. It’s the thing we always needed, but for some reason we never had. You can see when your transport is going to actually arrive. Don’t believe us, go to Oakland and be amazed!
Carnegie Mellon University’s Traffic21 also had a table. Traffic21 is a multi-disciplinary research institute where us transportation nerds can, according to its website, “design, test, deploy and evaluate information and communications technology-based solutions to address the problems facing the transportation system of the Pittsburgh region and the nation.”
Are you an Uber or Lyft driver? Then you are going to want to download the free app Gridwise that is designed to help drivers optimize their time and increase earnings.
Until we have flying cars – thanks for lying to us Back to the Future 2 – we have to deal with roads. But, if you weren’t aware, roads need to be constantly repaired. Roadbotics will map and photo all those stupid potholes across a city or town. You can see how they marked a town outside Pittsburgh right now here. The rep at the event mentioned that it would be a yearly process beating out the current every three-year road review he says the city currently uses. (We were too excited from the event to fact check this.)
A Vehicle for you & your friends
Need a car to get out of the City? Why you’d want to leave the Burgh, we do not know, but Zipcar is still available if you need it.
Chariot uses a Ford Transit Wagon like a bus. It’s mass transit for company employees or it can charter you to some far-off destination, maybe a group wine trip you and your friends have been putting off.
Tesla parked one of their sexy vehicles outside of Alumni Hall. We want this, erh, we need this. At Tesla’s table, we signed up for a chance to win driving a Tesla for a week. But if someone wants to buy it for us, or if Tesla wants to just give it to us, we wouldn’t object.
Also, pedaling all-electric vehicles were Proterra, which offers electric buses. Having a non-fossil fuel mass transit system would surely make us one of the most sustainable cities in the country (a green trait we’d love to rub in other city’s faces). Pittsburgh Port Authority actually purchased one of these ‘lectric Proterra buses, but other cities bought more than one :(. Oh, it also should be noted that Proterra is an American based company… U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.!
Hyperloop from Chicago to Columbus to Pittsburgh?
Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) had a table at the event. Why was an Ohio-based group at a Pittsburgh event? The MORPC are the ones who put together the hyperloop proposal that goes from Chicago to Columbus to Pittsburgh. A hyperloop is literally magic, using magnetic levitation to float a pod above a track which zips along at super-fast speeds. An image behind the MORPC table indicated that it would take 20+ minutes to get to Columbus with the hyperloop system. We need this now; there’s a freaking shuffleboard club opening in Chicago that we need to check out!
All and all the Western PA Mobility Showcase was pretty awesome. We learned a lot, saw some cool stuff, and daydreamed about taking a hyperloop to Chicago, using one of the bike-shares to ride to DC in the summer, taking driver-less vehicles to hang with friends, and washing our shiny new Tesla. The event really showed that a futuristic Pittsburgh isn’t something far away, it’s happening right now.