Possibly the Most Important, Yet Most Forgotten Driverless Mode: the Driverless Shuttle!

The vast majority of the media regarding driverless vehicles is focused on passenger cars. The challenge with this mode is that people expect their personal vehicles to take them everywhere, which requires a Level 5, fully automated driverless vehicle. Right now – the automakers would be thrilled if they could even achieve Level 4 based on this article: “GM has not been as detailed in its plans for the future as Ford and Tesla, who have both said they want to achieve Level 4 autonomy in the next few years.” The reality is that Level 5 is not going to be here anytime soon.

In the meantime, driverless shuttles are actually operating at Level 4 automation TODAY! This means that driverless shuttles can operate autonomously in constrained environments (e.g, campuses, airports, and employment centers). They are a great way to introduce the general public and government stakeholders to the technology while still serving a purpose and they can introduce the driverless technology via shared rides!

Driverless shuttles also present an immediate opportunity for transit agencies to test out the technology and start to incorporate it into their operations. Driverless shuttles can provide first/last mile solutions or circulator services (amongst other examples) and they can be accessible and “green.” As you can see on EasyMile’s website, there are already great examples happening around the world, including in Paris connecting rail stations, in Singapore at a Botanical Garden, and in Arlington, Texas connecting two sport arenas in Arlington, Texas (the latter starting later this year!).

OK, it’s time to admit that I just switched jobs and I now work for EasyMile, a driverless technology company that specializes in driverless shuttles (check out the EZ10 in action). For that reason, this is an entirely biased (yet true!) blog post!  And now you know who to contact if you’re interested in bringing an EZ10 to your venue!

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The Unintended Consequences of Driverless Vehicles

We often hear about the really positive consequences that are likely to come from driverless vehicles, including safety and improved mobility, and the negative consequences, including potential increased congestion and loss of jobs, but there are a host of other consequences to consider. In fact, they will likely be significant, even if they aren’t obvious or direct.

Motion Sickness – As this article states, there’s a significant likelihood that people will take their eyes off of the road (since they no longer need to focus on driving) and they will experience motion sickness. Could this create a larger market for motion sickness medicines and therapy?

Decreased Organ Donors – As this article states, if driverless vehicles provide the safety benefits that have been promised, there could be a significant reduction in accidents, which will mean a significant reduction in organ donors. Maybe we can also hope for a significant reduction in the people that need the organs? Let’s hope the medical research community keeps up!

Increased Carpooling and New Communities – As this article states, driverless vehicles will likely significantly increase the potential for car sharing and ride sharing. In addition to (potentially) reducing the congestion on roadways, this concept could create entirely new communities and market potential. Imagine happy hours, AAA meetings, and dates happening within vehicles while also taking people to their destinations.

Municipal Budgets – As this article states, many local governments rely on vehicle-related activities for a large portion of their funding. Sales taxes on vehicle purchases, vehicle registration fees, parking fees, traffic violations, and the list goes on… local governments may want to re-think (and diversify!) their revenue sources since their costs are unlikely to change as drastically.

There are countless other examples! Land use (and parking, in particular), identification cards (no more drivers’ licenses!), shopping/retail completely transformed, driving vehicles as a source of entertainment (think race tracks with driving cars available for rent), and the list goes on!  Please comment and share any other indirect consequences worth considering!

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Do We Really Need to Own Driverless Cars?

I don’t even want to own a manual car today, so I certainly don’t want to own a driverless car in the future, but will others want to? The car companies would, seemingly, want us to keep buying vehicles (driverless or not), but we know that many of them are diversifying their offerings so that they can sell mobility services (example article). I think it’s worth exploring why people choose to own cars today:

  1. Convenience – With people’s personal car typically parked within 100 feet of where they are at any time, it really is extremely convenient to “hop in” and go directly to their destination, which likely has convenient (and free) parking as well.
  2. Driving Experience – As BMW’s tagline (“the ultimate driving experience”) suggests, people like to drive: steering around curves, driving fast, cruising down highways, etc.
  3. Status – People enjoy the status associated of owning a vehicle and, especially, with owning a high-end name brand vehicle.

I really can’t put cost on that list because owning a car really is not a cost-effective investment. Besides the cost of purchasing a car, people also need to pay for insurance, fuel, license fees, registration fees, taxes, and maintenance. See this article for an estimate of the cost of owning a car.

In a driverless society, people will likely have two choices: own a driverless vehicle or use a range of mobility options. Owning a driverless vehicle will likely cost a few thousand dollars more than the cost of cars today (source), so we know that won’t be a huge deterrent. The next question is: how will our future driverless society fare against our driving values cited above?

  1. Convenience – People may actually find that mobility options (including a mix of driverless fleets of different types of vehicles, public transit, bike share, etc.) to be more convenient – especially if there are enough options, if there is congestion (likely!) and the price is right (less than the cost of owning!).
  2. Driving experience – Well this is going to go away (in theory) no matter what! Dedicated driving aficionados can head to a race course dedicated to driving manual cars!
  3. Status – I believe that companies offering mobility services will find ways to differentiate their offerings in such a way that people will maintain their perceived status (see my last blog post on driverless service differentiators).

Despite all of these points, I do believe there will be people that will continue to want/need to own their own driverless vehicle. So be it. They may even decide to lease their vehicle out when they don’t need it to make some extra cash (check out all the ways you can already lease out your car today when it’s not in use).  What would it take for you to give up owning a driverless car?

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Driverless Cars are Going to be More Than Just Cars

During my Monday morning commute, I’d love to take a driverless vehicle that includes a spinning class.

On Friday evening, I’d love to take a four wheel drive driverless shared vehicle to Tahoe for skiing.

And if I weren’t already married, I’d consider getting into a match-making driverless vehicle during happy hour on my commute home from work.

These may seem like really farfetched ideas, but auto makers and technology companies entering the driverless vehicle space will need to consider more than just the technology and regulations; they are going to need to differentiate their services. People will not care if they’re hailing an Uber or a Lyft or a Ford vehicle….they will care about the price and speed of the trip, but they will likely also consider the following kinds of service differentiators:

  • Comfort of vehicle (seat comfort, proximity of other people, music selection and volume, etc.)
  • Vehicle amenities (car seats, wheelchair accessibility, desks/tables, tv screens, etc)
  • Vehicle entertainment services (coffee/bar service, exercise options, doctor’s appointments,…the options are endless!)

We’re starting to see signs of this differentiation already today…Uber offers the ability to customize your music choice during your ride (source). Lyft offers its “Lyft Premier” service for people who want to “arrive in style.” And a company called Strack Transportation is offering chauffeured transportation services in Teslas in southern California (source).

We’re also starting to hear about what’s coming…Mercedes-Benz has stated its interest in providing a robotic limousine service (source). Panasonic’s technology inside the Chysler Portal includes facial recognition to provide preferred music, an acoustical bubble around each person, and connections to smart home set-ups (source).  And, of course, all aspects of payment will be integrated, as shown in this article on “Mercedes Pay.”

Driverless vehicles will surely become big money-makers via services. Would anyone like to put their requests in now for their ideal driverless vehicle service?

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What is the Potential Impact of ‘Smart Trucks’ Within the Trucking Industry?

I’m happy to introduce Justin Fox, a graduate from the University of Kent, who is my next guest blogger. Casting an eye to the future, Justin has identified automation as one of the primary issues set to dominate international affairs, , as human workers are made increasingly obsolete. He is currently looking to raise awareness of this issue, so as to encourage a debate about the future direction our workforce as a whole may take.

In all fields of employment, automation has fundamentally changed the nature of how business is done. Tasks that once took hours now take seconds, objects that required teams of people assembling them can be done by robotic arms and now, smart self-driving trucks have been labelled as the future of logistics and heavy goods vehicle (HGV) travel.

In theory such an intelligent programme would be revolutionary for truck fleets around the world, and it comes as no surprise that research funding for such development has not been hard to come by. In Singapore for example in a major piece of trucking news, it was announced that due to concerns about a shortage of drivers, the city-state’s transport authority has turned to the Swedish firm Scania to provide a fleet of self-driving trucks to facilitate the movement of shipping containers within the local ports.

Yet whilst they would arguably make for an efficient form of delivery service, this is only in theory. Smart trucks may be more superficially intelligent than human drivers at reading conditions, but they lack a real person’s ability to improvise to unforeseen circumstances. Much of motorway driving in particular revolves around keeping an eye on the vehicles around you, so whilst the trucks may not cause an issue, how well can they instantly react to someone else’s mistake?

Furthermore, what happens in the event of a technical malfunction? Whilst it’s guaranteed that the quality of each truck will undoubtedly be high and that they will be regularly maintained, no software works perfectly 100% of the time-especially on such a large scale as this.

Other concerns have also been expressed over the threat of hacking, by those who would want to take control of a truck and its contents. The motivations for this range from mischievous to sinister, and could present a very real security risk. Research undertaken by IT consultants found that 1 in 10 people within England and Wales have already been the attempted targets of cybercrime, which is rapidly growing as a major threat thanks to the increasing interconnectivity provided by modern technology.

Therefore as things currently stand there are still many issues which would make smart trucks unfit for replacing human drivers. Not only is there the economic aspect to consider which would put millions out of work, but the potential risks are greater than those posed by a real person in control. Whilst humans are more prone to errors and causing crashes, once they’ve come to a halt that tends to be the end of the incident. In contrast, an automated truck may mistakenly try to push onto its destination, unaware of the tremendous danger it is putting other road users in. Being exclusively controlled via data opens up a door to all manner of rogue threats, and the sheer volume of trucks on the roads would make guarding all of them 24/7 a colossal task.

Do others agree?

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Driving Towards….Driverless AND New Mobility Services!

So much of what we read is focused on what will happen when driverless vehicles are here… and that usually is referring to fully automated vehicles (SAE Level 5 automation), but most people agree that we are decades away from true proliferation. So what will the transition look like? And what can government agencies be doing now?  I think the answer lies in new mobility services.

New Mobility Services refers to transportation alternatives, often leveraging new technology, which are provided by the private sector. Today – we’re seeing new mobility services in the form of transportation network companies (e.g., Uber, Lyft), carpooling apps (e.g., Scoop, Waze), car sharing (e.g., Zipcar, City CarShare), and even shared electric scooters (e.g., Scoot). These private companies are all adding new mobility options to our cities and, at the same time, disrupting our traditional mobility options (i.e., the private car and public transit).

Government agencies (especially in cities) are experiencing this disruption every day. We’re seeing an increase in pick-ups and drop-offs in places not intended for traffic to stop. We’re seeing lawsuits related to discrimination and insurance claims with unclear guilty parties. We’re also seeing confusion for the customers about how to make transfers, handle multiple fare payments, and maintain a LOT of apps!

I believe that this is only the beginning of mobility disruption!  And government has the opportunity now to navigate this disruption, form partnerships, and establish appropriate regulations, policies, and relationships to be able to reap the positives from new mobility services (including driverless vehicles), but also protect against their negatives. New mobility services may be used to fill in gaps in public transit services, provide existing services more cost-effectively, introduce new data to support city planning, and provide more seamless integration with other forms of transportation. While I agree this isn’t the only thing that can be done now, I think it’s an important step forward. Do you agree?

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Driverless Vehicles News….and the Lack Thereof

Despite the fact that driverless vehicles continue to make headlines, I must admit that the “news” hasn’t really been new! States continue to consider new legislation around driverless vehicles. Pilots continue to pop up around the world. Academic institutions continue to study the ethics around driverless vehicle decision-making. Companies continue to invest in the advancement of the technology. Don’t get me wrong – the industry is still investing millions into this technology and I’m still extremely excited about its potential, but I’m disappointed by the headlines.

The reality of today’s situation is that there was around a year or two of hype and we’re now in the “trough of disillusionment” (as shown in Gartner’s technology hype cycle). While driverless vehicles haven’t failed to deliver (as the Gartner model states), they are just taking longer to become a reality than most of the predictions stated. The good news is that this hype cycle predicts the “slope of enlightenment” and the “plateau of productivity” next. The technology will still come (assuming no major failures), but a lot of the hype will likely fall to the wayside.

I’m really hoping we’ll see the news stories dig a little deeper than “Driverless vehicle fender bender!” or “Driverless legislation is falling behind!” Instead, I’d like to see articles that discuss what IS working (pilots, legislation, policies) and how we can ensure quick, safe adoption of the technology when it is available. And maybe the government will even initiate headlines around what they’re doing to proactively prepare for driverless technology!!  What headlines would you like to see today (non-political ones, please!)?

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