All Transportation stories

Joann Muller
Dec 16, 2021 - Economy & Business

Airlines see growth, innovation after COVID shock

Newark Liberty International Airport. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Most U.S.-based airlines are gearing up for strong growth — adding routes, hiring employees and ordering new aircraft — as the industry continues to recover from the pandemic slowdown.

The big picture: Airlines crippled by the health crisis generally weathered the shock better than after 9/11 because of the way federal assistance was structured, industry officials told the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

Dec 15, 2021 - Economy & Business

Mud in your eye: Self-driving cars tackle dirt on sensors

Argo AI's mud cannon flings dirt at the sensors on a self-driving car. Image: Argo AI

Autonomous vehicle developers are deliberately blinding their cars to perfect various sensor-cleaning strategies.

Why it matters: Like humans, self-driving cars must be able to actually see the world around them to make decisions. But rain, dirt, debris and even insects can obscure their vision, requiring systems that can automatically clean the sensors.

  • Companies have been testing a variety of cleaning methods, from blowing small puffs of air on cameras and lidar sensors to squirting them with liquids and then wiping them with tiny squeegees.

What's happening: To help with the research, engineers at one company, Argo AI, even jerry-rigged a "mud cannon" to splatter its test cars with a pudding-like substance.

  • The goal was to simulate mud splashing from a passing car — without damaging the sensors.
  • During six weeks of trial and error, Argo AI constructed a hood-mounted gizmo from PVC pipe, sprinkler valves and a portable air compressor that could fling a carefully crafted mix of water and scratch-proof dust at the car's sensors.
  • The end result is like a "simple potato gun, with a sprinkler valve."  

What to watch: 3M is developing a replaceable, superhydrophobic film that would act like a waterproof screen protector for lidar systems and other vehicle sensors.

  • 3M scientist Jonah Shaver, who developed the film as a side project, says the company is targeting several industries, including transportation, drones, agriculture and mining.
  • "We really think of it for use in any place you want a machine to see a little better."
Dec 15, 2021 - Economy & Business

Clear will call an Uber so you make your flight

Holiday travel is expected to approach pre-pandemic levels. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Clear, the ID security company that aims to speed passengers through airport security, will now book you an Uber to make sure you arrive at your gate on time.

Why it matters: Holiday travel is expected to approach pre-pandemic levels this year, which could lead to extra stress for passengers, many of whom haven't traveled in two years.

Driving the news: Clear is partnering with Uber to integrate its ride-hailing platform directly into the Clear app’s "Home to Gate" feature.

  • Home to Gate analyzes traffic data, security screening wait times, and walking distance in the terminal to advise when you should leave your home or hotel to arrive at your gate on time.
  • The integration with Uber means you can even reserve an Uber ride ahead of time on Clear's app for no extra charge.

How it works: You don't have to be a Clear Plus member to use the Home to Gate feature, but access to Clear's expedited security lines requires membership.

  • Open the Clear app and tap "Home to Gate."
  • Share your location and flight details, and the app will tell you the best time to leave for your flight.
  • Tap the "Get A Ride With Uber'' button, and the Uber app will reserve your ride, with all your trip details.

What they're saying: "Travel is surging back this holiday season, and together with Uber, we are helping travelers have a more predictable and stress-free travel experience," said Caryn Seidman-Becker, CEO of Clear.

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
Dec 14, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Caterpillar, BNSF Railway, Chevron pursue hydrogen-powered locomotive

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The lightest element on the periodic table could soon be used to power the heaviest of engines.

What’s happening: Caterpillar, BNSF Railway and Chevron on Tuesday announced a plan to develop a hydrogen-powered locomotive system.

Dec 14, 2021 - Economy & Business

What we're driving: 2022 Ford Bronco

With off-road driving assist technology, even Joann could master rock-crawling in the 2022 Ford Bronco. (Photo: Sam Schembari-Negroni for Axios)

I'm like the majority of SUV owners: My biggest excursion is to Home Depot. But the 2022 Ford Bronco I tested off-road recently had so much technology that even I was able to plow through sloppy mud trails and crawl over boulders with confidence.

The big picture: After 26 years, the iconic Bronco is back, going head-to-head with Jeep's legendary Wrangler. While it's natural to pit them in an all-out battle for market share, Ford wants to grow the segment by drawing inexperienced people like me to off-roading.

Amtrak warns of service reduction due to vaccine mandate

An Amtrak worker keeps watch from an Amtrak train during a station stop on Dec. 9 in Fullerton, California. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Amtrak faces the threat of a service reduction in January if more employees don't receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the company's president said, per AP.

Driving the news: About 95% of Amtrak workers are at least partially vaccinated ahead of the Jan. 4 vaccination deadline set for employees of federal contractors by the Biden administration, per AP.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Dec 10, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The race for electric vehicle materials

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

This week is bringing fresh signs of intensifying efforts by the world's largest automakers to secure the materials and supply chains needed for the transition to electric vehicles.

Driving the news: General Motors on Thursday announced two deals related to magnets needed for EV motors.

Carmakers see big bucks from in-car software subscriptions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Carmakers typically make their money when they sell a car. Now, they're eyeing monthly service subscriptions as a way to turbocharge growth.

Why it matters: The auto industry is aiming to be more like the tech and telecom industries, hooking customers with services and downloadable features that improve over time and — most important — generate recurring revenues.

School buses that track your child's location

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

New York City is the biggest school district to gear up for an Uber-like GPS-based system that tracks each pupil's school bus ride, letting parents know where their child is in real time.

Why it matters: For parents, teachers and school administrators, the ability to follow each student's daily commute adds a layer of safety and peace of mind — and helps all parties adjust plans when there are traffic jams, weather problems or other snarls.

Fewer people are driving downtown since COVID

Data: Inrdownto5wnix; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans are still avoiding downtown travel in many cities, a sign that COVID-19 continues to affect when, where and how people move.

The big picture: Traffic congestion is returning to many U.S. cities, but has yet to match pre-pandemic levels, according to new data from INRIX, a mobility research firm. One reason: people aren't making as many trips downtown.

What's happening: Many employees continued to work remotely in 2021.

  • San Francisco (-49%), Detroit (-41%) and Washington, D.C. (-38%) continued to see significant reductions in downtown trips compared to February 2020.
  • Downtown trips were close to normal, however, in San Antonio (-5%), Tampa (-6%) and Phoenix (-7%).
  • Of note: The data includes trips downtown for sporting events, shows and restaurants, not just work commutes.

Nationwide, downtown trips have decreased 22% compared to pre-COVID levels.

The bottom line: The average American driver spent 36 hours stuck in traffic in 2021 — worse than last year — but far below 2019 levels, when drivers wasted nearly 100 hours in traffic.