Topic: COMMUNITY INTEREST
Driverless Cars and the Freedoms They Can Bring
As the DOT is charged with protecting the traveling public, we recognize three realities that necessitate this guidance. First, the rise of new technology is inevitable. Second, we will achieve more significant safety improvements by establishing an approach that translates our knowledge and aspirations into early guidance. Third, as this area evolves, the “unknowns” of today will become “knowns” tomorrow. We do not intend to write the final word on highly automated vehicles here. Rather, we intend to establish a foundation and a framework upon which future Agency action will occur.
Today, the automobile industry is on the cusp of a technological transformation that holds promise to catalyze an unprecedented advance in safety on U.S. roads and highways. The development of advanced automated vehicle safety technologies, including fully self-driving cars, may prove to be the greatest personal transportation revolution since the popularization of the personal automobile nearly a century ago.
For DOT, the excitement around highly automated vehicles (HAVs) starts with safety. Two numbers exemplify the need. First, 35,092 people died on U.S. roadways in 2015 alone. Second, 94 percent of crashes can be tied to a human choice or error. An important promise of HAVs is to address and mitigate that overwhelming majority of crashes.
Whether through technology that corrects for human mistakes, or through technology that takes over the full driving responsibility, automated driving innovations could dramatically decrease the number of crashes tied to human choices and behavior. HAVs also hold a learning advantage over humans. While a human driver may repeat the same mistakes as millions before them, an HAV can benefit from the data and experience drawn from thousands of other vehicles on the road. DOT is also encouraged about the potential for HAV systems to use other complementary sensor technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) capabilities to improve system performance. These sensor technologies have their own potential to reduce the number and severity of crashes, and the inclusion of V2V and V2I capabilities could augment the safety and performance of HAV systems.
The benefits don’t stop with safety. Innovations have the potential to transform personal mobility and open doors to people and communities—people with disabilities, aging populations, communities where car ownership is prohibitively expensive, or those who prefer not to drive or own a car—that today have limited or impractical options. Cities will reconsider how space is utilized and how public transit is provided. Infrastructure capacity could be increased without pouring a single new truck load of concrete. HAVs may also have the potential to save energy and reduce air pollution from transportation through efficiency and by supporting vehicle electrification.
There are multiple definitions for various levels of automation and for some time there has been need for standardization to aid clarity and consistency. The SAE definitions divide vehicles into levels based on “who does what, when.”4 Generally:
•• At SAE Level 0, the human driver does everything;
•• At SAE Level 1, an automated system on the vehicle can sometimes assist the human
driver conduct some parts of the driving task;
•• At SAE Level 2, an automated system on the vehicle can actually conduct some parts
of the driving task, while the human continues to monitor the driving environment and
performs the rest of the driving task;
•• At SAE Level 3, an automated system can both actually conduct some parts of the
driving task and monitor the driving environment in some instances, but the human
driver must be ready to take back control when the automated system requests;
•• At SAE Level 4, an automated system can conduct the driving task and monitor the
driving environment, and the human need not take back control, but the automated
system can operate only in certain environments and under certain conditions; and
•• At SAE Level 5, the automated system can perform all driving tasks, under all conditions
that a human driver could perform them.
Imagine getting in your car, typing or speaking a location into your vehicle’s interface, then letting it drive you to your destination while you read a book, surf the web or nap. Self-driving vehicles – the stuff of science fiction since the first roads were paved – are coming, and they’re going to radically change what it’s like to get from point A to point B.
The building blocks of driverless cars are on the road now. The front-crash prevention systems that for several years have been able to warn drivers of an impending obstacle and apply the brakes if they don’t react fast enough.
The first big leap to fully autonomous vehicles is due in 2017, when Google Inc. said it would have an integrated system ready to market. Every major automotive manufacturer is likely to follow by the early 2020s, though their systems could wind up being more sensor-based, and rely less on networking and access to map information. Google probably wont manufacture cars. More likely, it’ll license the software and systems.
As with the adoption of any new revolutionary technology, there will be problems for businesses that don’t adjust fast enough. Futurists estimate that hundreds of billions of dollars (if not trillions) will be lost by automakers, suppliers, dealers, insurers, parking companies, and many other car-related enterprises. And think of the lost revenue for governments via licensing fees, taxes and tolls, and by personal injury lawyers and health insurers.
Who needs a car made with heavier-gauge steel and eight airbags (not to mention a body shop) if accidents are so rare? Who needs a parking spot close to work if your car can drive you there, park itself miles away, only to pick you up later? Who needs to buy a flight from Boston to Cleveland when you can leave in the evening, sleep much of the way, and arrive in the morning?
This has the potential to] dramatically reduce the number of cars on the street, 80% of which have people driving alone in them, and also a household's cost of transportation, which is 18% of their income – around $9,000 a year – for an asset that they use only 5% of the time,” said Robin Chase, the founder and CEO of Buzzcar, a peer-to-peer car sharing service, and co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar.
In 2030, self-driving cars are expected to create $87 billion worth of opportunities for automakers and technology developers, said a report by Boston-based Lux Research. Software developers stand to win big.
If you’re an automaker, such as Ford Motor Co. (F), General Motors Co. (GM), Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp. or Honda Motor Co., Ltd. (HMC), which account for about 70% of the U.S. market, you could see an initial surge in the $600 billion in annual new and used car sales in the U.S. But as soon as the technology takes hold, sales could fall off significantly as sharing popularizes.
Cars will always need steel, glass, an interior, a drivetrain and some form of human interface (even if that interface is little more than a wireless connection to your smartphone). But much of everything else could change. As an example, take front-facing seats; they could become an option, not a requirement. Automakers that see change coming, such as how the big profits are secured downstream by car servicers, insurers and more, are focusing on services as much as on what and how they manufacture.
With fewer cars around, parking lots and spaces that cover roughly a one-third of the land area of many U.S. cities can be repurposed. That could mean temporary downward pressure on real estate values as supply increases. It could also mean greener urban areas, as well as revitalized suburbs, as longer commutes become more palatable. And if fewer cars are on the road, the federal and state governments may be able to reallocate a good portion of the roughly $30 billion spent annually on highways.
Autonomous vehicles are also expected to be safer. These cars won't get drunk or high, drive too fast, or take unnecessary risks – things people do all the time. Over 90% of accidents today are caused by driver error. There is every reason to believe that self-driving cars will reduce frequency and severity of accidents, so insurance costs should fall, perhaps dramatically.
Cars can still get flooded, damaged or stolen. However, this technology will have a dramatic impact on underwriting. A lot of traditional underwriting criteria will be upended. According to a University of Texas report, if only 10% of the cars on U.S. roads were autonomous, more than $37 billion of savings could be realized via less wasted time and fuel, as well as fewer injuries and deaths. At 90%, the benefit rises to almost $450 billion a year.
Self-driving cars could have a substantial impact on the taxi and limousine industries and could create new ones. They could be used to share specific trips as a kind of pay-as-you-go small-scale public transportation – taking a disparate bunch of Manhattanites to the beach in the Hamptons, for instance.
One study found that a fleet of 9,000 driverless taxis could serve all of Manhattan at about 40 cents per mile (compared to about $4-6 per mile now). There are licenses for over 13,000 taxis in the Big Apple now. Self-driving cars may also challenge train lines. A self-driving car offers much of the convenience of rail service with the added convenience that the service is portal-to-portal rather than station-to-station. On the other hand, a fleet of self-driving cars available at the station may make rail service more palatable. The technology has already been adopted in closed systems, such as campuses, air-terminals and mining. Rio Tinto Group (RIO), a large mining company, uses enormous self-driving trucks in its mining operations. European countries are experimenting with the platooning of trucks. Among other things, this saves about 18% in fuel.
As self-driving cars move toward becoming a reality for the general public, many blind or aging people and those with disabilities see a new opportunity for mobility approaching. Advocates are pushing manufacturers and regulators to ensure that people with disabilities are included in the planning and development of automated technology and regulation.
The desire is to be in that same class of consumers with people who are already on the roads. If there’s an autonomous car, there needs to be a means by which a blind person can operate that car as well. Both people with disabilities and the manufacturers would benefit from including the disabled and elderly in the debate about the technology – and not just from some sense of social equity. It would behoove the auto industry – auto manufacturers – to certainly keep the elderly and the disabled in mind, as a growing proportion of the American population are aging baby boomers.
In a way similar to how settings can be enabled on iPhones or computers to accommodate the blind, the technology can be built into the interface for autonomous vehicles, he said in a phone interview. Cars can be programmed to describe the field of vision to a blind driver and send warnings about tight turns or obstacles through vibrations and other triggers.
There are many technological advances to discuss. NVIDIA, a company based in Santa Clara, California, that designs graphics processing units, has developed a computer for self-driving cars that uses artificial intelligence to learn from new traffic situations and share that information with other cars using the same technology.
They can handle the processing of different sensor inputs, and we can do all kinds of sensory outputs, whether it’s touch-based, whether it’s audible or visual. It’s absolutely updateable, just like your phone is.
When it comes to aging people and those with disabilities – even among those who once held driver’s licenses – each person’s impairment is different, and determining who can use which cars will present a “nightmare of complexity.
NHTSA is crafting federal guidelines for automated vehicles that are expected to include recognition of the needs of blind people and those with other disabilities. Many at the Washington hearing voiced safety concerns, pointing to crash and malfunction reports from trial runs.
Some of the best engineers in the world are working to make this a reality in our communities. Engineers have already solved many of the safety concerns associated with self-driving vehicles. While there’s more to do, these cars are currently being tested on the road. The companies working to bring these vehicles to us are concerned chiefly with safety. They are committed to safety and are actively testing, re-working, re-testing, and validating everything they do to ensure that when---not if, when---these vehicles arrive in our communities, they not only contribute to people's independence, they do so in a way that ensures everyone's safety.
I can imagine my mother in a self-driving vehicle, commuting to her favorite mall for the daily walk. I can imagine my friend with a disability who relies on Metro Mobility for transportation, hopping in a self-driving vehicle to meet friends for a celebration.
The technology making this possible is new and can be scary---like many of the technologies that we have made part of our everyday lives. A whole lot of very smart people are rapidly evolving this possibility and it won’t be long before it’s ready and safe for mass production. Imagine what it could mean for you, your family, and our community.
Some day you can finally put Fido to work for you. Strap them into your self driving vehicle and they can go run your errands for you. Order what you want on line and they go and pick it up for you.