How is Government ALREADY Leveraging Driverless Technology?

We read about the benefits of driverless vehicles all of the time: they’re going to be safer, provide greater mobility options, improve travel reliability, reduce freight costs, etc. What does this mean in practice though? Government agencies around the world are already finding ways to leverage the driverless technology to support these goals (and more!). Here are some exciting examples:

  • Shared vehicles (public transit): In Singapore, 24-person driverless pods will shuttle people to their destinations due to a partnership between 2getthere, a Dutch manufacturer of automated vehicle systems, and SMRT Services, Singapore’s second-largest public transportation company (source). CityMobil2 is a pilot platform for automated road transport systems, which are being implemented in several urban environments across Europe.
  • First/last mile solution: Transit agencies struggle getting people to and from transit hubs due to the cost of providing transportation to less dense communities. Bishop Ranch, an office park in the Bay Area, will be using Easy Mile’s driverless buses to transport people to a transit hub (source) and Las Vegas will be introducing multiple first/last mile pilots with Local Motor’s Olli (a self-driving shuttle) (source).
  • Mobility for the elderly: In Suzu, Japan, a local university is testing a prototype driverless Toyota Prius to address the challenge of providing mobility for aging drivers (source). This is especially important in Japan, which leads the world in aging (with one in four people older than 65).
  • Freight testing/piloting – In order to support the local economy and improve safety, Nevada is supporting the testing of driverless trucks (source). Also, European countries are supporting the testing of semi-automted “smart” trucks because they are likely going to be cleaner, more efficient, safer, and reduce congestion due to their consistent driving speed (source).
  • Military applications – The United States army will deploy driverless vehicles in extremely controlled areas, at low speeds and for special missions: to transport wounded soldiers to the hospital for rehab treatment. The Army is developing automated vehicles for two main reasons: First, self-driving vehicles can reduce the amount of money the Army spends on its fixed operations. And second, TARDEC engineers believe the technology and lessons from limited on-base driverless vehicles eventually can be used as the building blocks for automated battlefield vehicles (source).

This is just the beginning!  What other examples are happening around the world?

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Will Driverless Vehicles Eliminate Luxury Cars?

Luxury cars provide consumers with a higher quality ride (bigger engines, better handling, faster acceleration) and, most notably, owners typically enjoy the status associated with owning a high-end name brand vehicle.  So what will happen when the driverless technology is available?  This article suggests that luxury cars will have no purpose in an all self-driving future.

On the one hand, driverless vehicles will all leverage similar technologies, so the quality of the ride will (in theory) be comparable across vehicles. Even in this article about the Rolls Royce driverless concept and this site on the Mercedes F015 concept, most of the features highlighted in the article are aesthetic (sleek design, “luxury lounge,” and a virtual assistant); the focus is no longer on the ride.  Moreover, in theory, private vehicle ownership will decrease substantially, so the likelihood and, ultimately, the image associated with owning a vehicle could decline accordingly.

On the other hand, I have to believe a sub-set of our population will always own their own vehicle (despite what government policies are put in place to discourage it). Price has never and will never discourage the purchase of luxury vehicles, so that will not change, and companies will always find ways to differentiate their products.

My hope is that we will have mostly shared fleets (at least in our urban and suburban areas) and the shared fleets will have a range of products that are priced accordingly. A high-end, sophisticated shared vehicle with a sleek design, “luxury lounge,” and Starbucks coffee offered will cost more than the basic shared vehicle service.So what do you think?  Will we see the end of the luxury car market?

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Are Driverless Shuttles Our Future?

As many already know, I strongly encourage vehicle and ride sharing (in general), but with the advent of driverless vehicles – I think vehicle and ride sharing will be vitally important for our society. For that reason, I have been remiss in not focusing on the driverless shuttles that are being developed and, in some cases, are already being tested on streets today. As shown in this table, some of the leading driverless shuttle companies include Local Motors, EasyMile, Navya, AuroRobotics, and Varden Labs. All of these vehicles currently operate at slow speeds (e.g., 25 mph) and are targeting closed campus environments and providing transit first/last mile solutions (with some exceptions, of course). They’re all also powered by electricity.

Interestingly, some of the automakers and technology developers are also entering this space, including Mercedes Benz and Tesla; however, these seem more conceptual at this point.

I was happy to see that three out of five of the driverless shuttle companies have offices in the United States. Sadly, most of the U.S. media focus has been on passenger vehicles and I think it’s important to shift our focus to shared vehicles.

Will these and other private companies replace our public transit services? That’s highly unlikely; however, they will likely start operating in transit agencies’ service areas (similar to what Chariot, Bridj, and other micro-transit companies are doing today). Transit agencies need to recognize that driverless shuttles present opportunities for the agencies and partnering early is a great start. Let’s create safer, more cost-effective transit systems that still support important government goals (geographic coverage, access for all demographics, etc).  Do you agree?

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My Wedding Chariot:A Driverless Vehicle?

30 days to go until my Yosemite wedding! Driverless vehicle suppliers – Can you help make my dream come true?

google wedding car

If you have any ideas/suggestions – please email me at isaac@pbworld.com!

 

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How Can Driverless Vehicles Support Government’s Goals?

Lately, I feel like there is so much focus on the negatives associated with driverless vehicles that we have lost focus on the positives. As with any new product, there are going to be glitches (and I think it’s important that government is involved in minimizing these glitches’ impacts on society), but let’s keep our eye on the prize:

  • Increased safety! Humans cause the majority of incidents on our roadways today. I believe the folks at CAVCOE said it best when they said “If we assume that within a few years, the data is in and computers are shown to be significantly safer drivers than humans…not perfect, just significantly better. Is it ethical to allow humans to continue to cause all those collisions, deaths and injuries? At what point do the regulatory bodies ban human drivers?”
  • Increased mobility! Imagine Grandma getting to her doctor’s appointment on her own, the neighborhood drunk getting home without hurting anyone, and a blind person traveling downtown effortlessly. Driverless vehicles are going to provide a new, convenient, safe mobility option for many people who couldn’t or shouldn’t have been driving before.
  • Better use of city space! Driverless vehicles will likely require less wide roads. Also, parking can either be re-located or eliminated (hopefully eliminated) because driverless vehicles will be able to park themselves remotely or (hopefully) increased ride sharing will require a lot less parking. Parking is estimated to take 15-20% of our city’s footprints, so this is a significant amount of land that can be re-purposed – ideally for more bike/ped infrastructure, parks, etc.
  • Better throughput! Driverless vehicles will likely be able to travel more closely together (especially with the addition of connected vehicle technology). In theory, they can travel at faster speed limits too. This, combined with less vehicles circulating looking for parking, should allow for more reliable, faster movement in and around our cities.

Please note that all of these benefits are directly in line with most of our city’s goals (e.g., Vision Zero, reduced congestion, increased transportation access, etc).  How else do government’s goals align with the benefits of driverless technology?

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Automated Vehicle Symposium Reflections

I just spent the last few days at the Automated Vehicle Symposium, a conference organized by AUVSI and the Transportation Research Board (TRB). I attend many conferences, but I wanted to write about this one just because it, to me, is one of the most valuable conferences for finding a balanced perspective on automated vehicles. Representatives from the technology developers (e.g., Google), OEMs (e.g., Ford, GM), insurance companies, U.S. federal, state, and local government representatives, acadmemics, consultants (like me!), and all of those stakeholders’ international counterparts were in attendance. I especially love to meet and see the experts who I am often reading about in automated vehicle publications and news articles.

Here are some of the key observations/themes that I noted from this conference:

  • Government regulation was constantly discussed, but the largest issue debated seemed to be whether or not the government should develop regulations in advance of the technology being publicly available or wait until afterwards (as government has traditionally done). Mark Rosekind, the NHTSA Administrator, mocked the fact that the government is constantly being told they’re too slow and yet now – they’re being asked to slow down!
  • It was acknowledged that different states are putting regulations in place (and not putting regulations in place) all with the ultimate goal of improved safety, but each state’s approach is very different. This continues to present challenges for the technology developers and any inter-state demos/pilots.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to hear how both the public and private sector stressed the importance of building public awareness around automated and connected vehicles. I’m looking forward to seeing how that evolves.
  • The Tesla accident was mentioned many times (how could it not?!), but it was not a focus and everyone seemed to acknowledge it and then encourage continued forward progress.
  • This conference focused more on automation + connectivity being ideal (I didn’t feel like that theme came out in past years).
  • I was thrilled to hear that the United States government will be actively partnering with other governments around the world for the purposes of knowledge and data sharing. It’s clear that many other countries (e.g., Sweden, Germany, the UK, and Japan) are making amazing progress in this space.

Any other conference attendees have any interesting observations?

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A Few More Thoughts on the Tesla Accident

Another day passes and another batch of articles have come out regarding the recent Tesla Autopilot accident. Last week’s blog by Steve Kuciemba highlighted the potential avoidance of this crash if connected vehicle technology had been involved. I have a few additional thoughts:

  • Full autonomy (assuming it was a well-tested vehicle) could also have avoided this accident. As Chris Urmson of Google states in this article, “people were doing ridiculous things in the car” (referring to people’s response to partially automated vehicles). People assume a vehicle with some level of automation can handle a lot more than it’s actually equipped to do. This reflects people’s human nature to 1. Not have awareness/understanding of how partial automation works, and 2. Be lazy (and not focus on driving). Note: all of these news articles may be helping to address the lack of awareness issue!
  • Exactly how much testing is necessary before a vehicle is allowed on the road? Automobile manufacturers would probably argue that years of testing is required before deploying new features to the public. This New York Times article states the following: “a Tesla executive said the Autopilot system had performed safely during tens of millions of miles of driving by consumers. “It’s not like we are starting to test this using our customers as guinea pigs,” he said.” What standards are required here and how can the government determine an appropriate threshold?
  • As I’ve stated in an earlier blog post, I’ve always worried that one accident could slow (or even halt) the development and/or adoption of driverless vehicles. This article is one of many that suggests this concept. I think this would be a huge loss for society because the accidents caused by these “robo-cars” will likely be a fraction of what is currently caused by human drivers.

It looks like Tesla has no plans to disable the Autopilot feature (source). I wonder if that’s a good or bad thing…. Thoughts?

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