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?
Thanks for the insightful commentary, Lauren. It is such a big conference that it is difficult to sum up in a single post. My big epiphany was the parallel between software defined telecom networks and software defined transportation networks. Here is the link to my summary:
Stay tuned for interviews with Gabe Klein, Louay Eldada and others. Sorry we didn’t get to meet up.
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As a programmer, the parallel between roading and communications naturally stuck out to me, and many many others. The sheer inefficiency of road transport, low load factor, the huge amount of machinery used to carry on average 1.3 people, the compression waves caused by over acceleration and braking.
People have been working on the load factor isssue through car pooling largely without success. For a long time. It’s interesting that Uber Pool is finally making headway on this, in my view because they attained critical mass via the taxi like service first.
Robocars should take care of the inefficiencies in braking and acceleration, even without any connectivity. Further if accident rates plummet, the mass of vehicles should go down as the size of crash cages, tyres, brakes, engines, suspension are reduced.
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Thanks for your insights into the symposium. Regulating automated technologies is a critical issue, especially towards providing a coherent framework within which manufacturers can develop systems that drivers will understand.
Unfortunately, the US regulatory system is rooted in the consumer-protection movement of the 1960’s. As such, US regulations focus on mandating the installation of safety measures in new vehicles while the recall system focuses on addressing safety issues that arise among vehicles in use. Both approaches require accident data to define a need, meaning that it’s very difficult for NHTSA to move in sync with (much less get ahead of) the automotive market. Paradoxically, NHTSA is the premier safety agency for R&D while saddled with a plodding administrative regime that prevents responsive rulemaking.
In contrast, Japan, the EU, and virtually all other major automotive markets base rulemaking on technical rationales. The first issue is not whether to mandate the use of a technology, but whether a technology being developed or introduced requires regulation. The justifications include ensuring the public welfare, but also promoting competitiveness. Therefore, these governments already have first generation automatic emergency braking rules in place and are poised to establish the first generation requirements for automated steering systems.
Most of this work is coordinated through the UN World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (aka WP.29). The international group of regulators working on automated steering expect to present a draft proposal within the Forum next September.
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