TUE AM News: Self-driving vehicle research ongoing, though local officials concerned about costs and risks; WARF providing $216.8 million to UW-Madison research enterprise

— While transportation officials and scientists in the state continue autonomous vehicle research, local officials are expressing concern about the potential risk and costs associated with self-driving vehicles. 

Andrea Bill, traffic safety engineer research program manager for UW-Madison’s Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory, noted ongoing research efforts in Madison and Racine are aimed at improving safety and effectiveness of autonomous and connected vehicles. She spoke yesterday during a virtual forum hosted as part of Milwaukee Tech Week. 

But a representative of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities said many officials at the local level either aren’t paying attention to the issue or have doubts about how these vehicles could be supported. 

City officials in Racine held an event last week at Gateway Technical College to unveil a new self-driving shuttle dubbed the Racine Badger, equipped with cameras, sensors and mapping capabilities. Bill explained that data collected from the vehicle will be used to understand safety issues, including how the vehicle interacts with pedestrians, cyclists and other potential hazards, as well as varying weather conditions. 

“Racine gives us a great opportunity to do a living laboratory right there on Lake Michigan. We’re able to get the wind, the lake effect, snow, some hills and curvatures,” Bill said yesterday. 

One major goal is to get these self-driving vehicles to “think like we would think as humans” when navigating traffic and other obstacles, she said. The Racine Badger is starting off with the college’s parking lots and the lakeside Pershing Park Drive that runs along the campus, but Racine Mayor Corey Mason said last week that the entire city will be used to develop “this emerging technology around mobility and transit.” 

Meanwhile, a “connected corridor” along Madison’s Park Street is helping researchers model transit systems that could optimize movement of connected vehicles, which aren’t necessarily self-driving but could interact with roadside signaling units for route guidance. 

“Our transportation world isn’t what it used to be,” Bill said. “We don’t think about just the pavement and our curves and pavement markings and things of that sort, now we have to think about all the infrastructure that goes along with it from the digital age. How do we understand the data, how do we look at it, how do we protect it and how do we really use it?” 

Although some city leaders like Mason are approaching autonomous vehicles with a long-term vision of how they could revolutionize transit, League of Wisconsin Municipalities Executive Director Jerry Deschane says many public works directors are worried about the short-term practicalities — while others aren’t thinking about AVs at all. 

The League was asked by the state Department of Transportation to poll these public works directors in the spring to see if they’re thinking about the issue and “if they’re ready for this.” Based on the limited responses received, Deschane says “the answer is a resounding no. They are just not paying attention at this point.” 

The organization polled over 300 city and village public works officials to get their views on connected and autonomous vehicles, and only 38 of them provided responses. Deschane said that response rate is “quite low” compared to standard polling, adding “that silence says something.” And of the 38 that responded, only nine said they were actively thinking about these issues. 

He noted some respondents said they “don’t want to think about it” and highlighted perceived safety issues in their responses. Of the nine that said they are thinking about AVs and connected vehicles, many posed concerns related to new infrastructure requirements, weather challenges, impacts on traffic volume, system breakdowns and funding concerns for any major adaptations that might be needed.  

Ultimately, he said respondents tended to see autonomous vehicles as “just too far away,” and some would rather prioritize the more easily-attainable connected vehicle systems. 

“Their response was that cities focus on meat and potatoes, and to them this just looks like frosting,” he said. “They’re not paid to be futurists, so they don’t really think forward to the future.” 

— The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is providing $216.8 million during the 2021-22 academic year to UW-Madison and affiliated organizations, marking the largest annual grant supporting the university’s research efforts in the foundation’s history. 

Over the past five years, the foundation’s annual grant has ranged in size from around $125 million to $164 million. WARF Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs Jeanan Yasiri Moe explained this year’s higher level of support is due to funding for new research buildings as well as pandemic support to the research enterprise. 

“For nearly a century, WARF is able to provide this support through our partnership with campus in patenting and licensing technologies that come from the university research community,” she said in a statement. “Over years the foundation has invested wisely and has an investment portfolio that allows us to invest in our campus and facilitate maintaining their excellence in academic research thereby benefiting the world.” 

The foundation’s traditional base grant to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education is $63.6 million, while supplemental grants include $55 million for new research facilities and $40 million for pandemic support. Another $11.4 million is going to the Morgridge Institute for Research, and WARF is providing about $35 million in operational and functional support for UW-Madison. 

The total also includes funding for the annual Fall Research Competition, the strategic Research Forward initiative, hiring programs and more. 

See more details in the release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/warf-announces-annual-grant-figures-301406062.html 

— The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the state continues its gradual decline, reaching 1,822 cases per day at latest count. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Health Services site shows the seven-day average of new deaths from the virus is holding at a higher level than before the ongoing surge. The average has remained between 10 and 15 deaths per day since early September, the DHS site shows. A total of 8,378 people in Wisconsin have died from the virus. 

The state’s vaccination rate continues to inch upward, with 57.6 percent of the state’s population having received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of yesterday. And 54.9 percent have completed the vaccine series. 

The Wisconsin Hospital Association’s dashboard shows the number of people hospitalized with the virus has largely been declining since mid-October, though the number of ICU patients has not seen as much of a dip. The WHA site shows 926 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 278 ICU patients. 

See the latest case numbers here: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/cases.htm 

— Waushara County will be creating a telemedicine system for its Emergency Medical Services Department through a $213,000 grant from the USDA. 

The rural county will be connecting seven fixed rural EMS stations and equipping seven ambulances and trucks with mobile telehealth video conferencing systems and mobile hotspots to support internet connectivity. While responding to calls, ambulance operators will be able to connect with health care providers virtually “to improve efficiency and support services for patients,” a release from the agency shows. 

At the fixed sites, video conferencing technology will be installed to support virtual training and education efforts. 

The federal funding was announced yesterday as part of a $50 million grant package funding 105 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and Puerto Rico. Those projects are estimated to impact 7.6 million rural residents around the country, including 25,000 people through the Waushara County project, according to the USDA. 

“Information technology is critical to rural Wisconsin and bringing specialized medical programs to rural areas will save lives,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Wisconsin Rural Development Acting State Director Michelle Wallace. 

See the full list of awards here: https://www.rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/usdard_dltchart10_22_2021.pdf 

— Gateway Capital Partners, a venture capital firm based in Milwaukee, has invested $400,000 in a financial tech startup serving the health care industry. 

Tip a ScRxipt, also based in Milwaukee, was founded by entrepreneur Chad Johnson in February 2020. The business facilitates payment assistance programs by health care providers and pharmaceutical companies, holding funds in patient accounts that can only be used for medical expenses such as prescription medication and other medical supplies not fully covered by health insurance. 

The app also has a “peer-funding” feature, through which individuals can contribute to specific patients’ Tip a ScRxipt account to help pay for their medical expenses. 

Aside from the investment by Gateway Capital Partners, a portfolio fund of the state’s Badger Fund of Funds, the startup has also raised $100,000 from the startup accelerator gener8tor. Johnson connected with Gateway Capital Partners through the Young Enterprising Society’s Blueprint program, a Milwaukee-based business accelerator. 

The VC firm’s managing partner, Dana Guthrie, highlights the “ever-increasing” cost of medical expenses in a release. 

“Tip a ScRxipt has a large market opportunity. Chad is a problem-solver and is designing a product to mutually benefit both patients and the healthcare industry,” she said. 

See the release: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/gateway-capital-announces-first-investment-in-tip-a-scrxipt/ 

— The Department of Natural Resources is taking public comments as it considers an application from Brady Corporation’s Milwaukee manufacturing operation to join the Green Tier program. 

The agency has three tiers of participation in the program, which helps participants coordinate environmental management systems and other efforts to improve sustainability and reduce impacts to the environment. If the company’s application is accepted, it would join at the Tier 1 level. 

Applicants that get accepted into the program must demonstrate “a strong environmental record” and agree to implement a system for assessing their progress. Participants also agree to have their system audited and set specific goals for environmental improvement.  

A release from the DNR shows the Brady Corporation site has a certified environmental management system in place, and aims to reduce wastewater, air emissions and hazardous waste while increasing the facility’s energy efficiency. 

The agency is accepting public comments on the application through Nov. 24. 

See the company’s application here: https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/GreenTier/Participants/BradyCorpGoodHopeRd 

See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/dept-of-natural-resources-dnr-seeks-public-comments-on-green-tier-application-for-brady-corporation-good-hope-road-facility/ 

— The latest USDA crop report shows harvesting of grain corn and soybeans is proceeding more quickly than the five-year average, while this year’s potato harvest has largely wrapped up. 

As of Monday, 48 percent of grain corn had been harvested, which is five days ahead of last year’s pace and 11 days ahead of the five-year average. And the soybeans were 74 percent harvested, which is five days behind last year but six days ahead of the average, the report shows. 

The potato harvest was 99 percent complete, and winter wheat planting was 93 percent complete. Seventy-four percent of winter wheat had emerged, which is four days ahead of last year and 11 days ahead of the average.

See the report: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Wisconsin/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/2021/WI-Crop-Progress-10-25-21.pdf 


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# Vision mission: Madison nonprofit brings door-to-door eye exams to rural India




– Wisconsin apple orchards seeing a shortfall this year


– NFMC offering another rollover protective structures rebate program



– State identifies successful MEP bidders for UW-Milwaukee chemistry building


– WBC offering ‘Beef in the Classroom’ education grants


– In Wisconsin, recall efforts add to pressure on school boards in the wake of COVID-19


– Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation announces $216.8 million grant for UW-Madison



– Milwaukee’s Gateway Capital makes first investment as lead funder in Tip a ScRxipt seed round


– Dana Guthrie’s Gateway Capital makes its first investment

– Christian Yelich, Randall Cobb among investors in downtown Milwaukee food hall


– 3rd Street Market Hall lands investment from Christian Yelich, Randall Cobb


– Jurowski stepping down as head of Building Advantage


– Strattec CEO says long-term view helps in navigating automotive industry rollercoaster


– Radio Milwaukee names Moody to lead new urban channel, sets launch date



– A. Werner Silversmiths to close, lists downtown Water Street building for sale


– Camp Randall Stadium will undergo $77.6 million construction project



– Plane from NY to LA makes emergency landing in Wisconsin


– ‘I just thought the plane was gonna blow up’: Passenger recounts emergency landing in Madison


– WEC Energy Group names its next CEO


<i>See these and other press releases: 

https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>

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