cross-country AV (photo: Delphi)
The Automakers, Tier 1s and AV Developers
Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk appeared at the Nvidia GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and said that Tesla’s cars already have enough technology already inside them to run autonomously, but they would not be as safe as they need to be.
During a separate press call, Musk also said that Tesla will ship a software update "in about three months" that will turn on auto-steering, or "autopilot" as Musk often refers to it. "We can basically go between San Francisco and Seattle without the driver doing anything," Musk said of the autonomous system that Tesla has developed.
Mercedes: The advanced F 015 AV concept/research car has allegedly been driving around San Francisco. The design is very futuristic - a photo is here. As this vehicle is not road legal, we doubt the truth of these reports.
Mahindra Group of India plans to join companies such as Google, Tesla, BMW and Audi that are experimenting with driverless cars. Mahindra's electric car subsidiary, Mahindra Reva, has submitted proof of concepts for driverless cars in the UK and Singapore. An executive said "We have already begun experiments in our R&D facility in Bengaluru. Once we get approvals from the respective governments, we'll start testing these cars on road".
Google: At the TED conference in Vancouver, Chris Urmson stated that “The company is currently logging three million miles in simulators every day, in addition to its real-world driving tests.” He also re-stated aspirations with regard to time-lines; “Google has been making enough progress with its self-driving cars that it believes it could be ready for broad-scale use within five years.”
Google: Astro Teller provided some very illuminating insights in a closing keynote address at South by South West Interactive. Google has been using volunteers to test its self-driving cars. This led to an important observation:
“This real-world testing taught us something that steered us off that path we’d been on. Even though everyone who signed up for our test swore up and down that they wouldn’t do anything other than pay 100% attention to the road, and knew that they’d be on camera the entire time…people do really stupid things when they’re behind the wheel. They already do stupid things like texting when they’re supposed to be 100% in control…so imagine what happens when they think “the car’s got it covered.” It isn’t pretty. Expecting a person to be a reliable backup for the system was a fallacy. Once people trust the system, they trust it. “Our success was itself a failure. We came quickly to the conclusion that we needed to make it clear to ourselves that the human was not a reliable backup — the car had to always be able to handle the situation. And the best way to make that clear was to design a car with no steering wheel — a car that could drive itself all of the time, from point A to point B, at the push of a button.”
Transit / Transportation
AVs are coming -- sooner than many people expect -- but not driverless buses. The Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) recently surveyed transit bus manufacturers on their AV technology advances. The results were sobering, reports CityLab. Unlike the automotive industry which has invested a substantial amount of money into AV technology, there have not been similar AV developments in the transit industry. Of the five bus manufacturers approached by CUTR— New Flyer/NABI, Gillig, El Dorado National, Nova Bus/Volvo, and Proterra—only one had ambitions toward enhanced autonomous technology. Nova/Volvo wants to develop a pedestrian-bicycle warning system for bus drivers. That's a potentially great advance in driver-assist technology, but nowhere near full automation.
As CityLab explains, the shame of it is autonomous buses could have enormous benefits for city mobility. As with all autonomous vehicles, bus safety would improve, and rapid transit could be linked with driverless shuttles and walkable developments to create efficient commuter hubs in the suburbs.
At CAVCOE, we would like to see more research around shared automated vehicles, including services that might develop out of existing bus transit, in order to better understand what role public transit and buses might play in the future.
There has been a lot of publicity about the Delphi car driving itself across the US. Delphi, an automotive Tier 1 supplier, aims to test and prove its autonomous car technology by letting it drive from San Francisco to New York City.
Socio-Economic Impacts of AVs
"Will driverless cars put an end to traffic cops?" asks Jay L Zagorsky of The Ohio State University as reported in Raw Story News. Research shows that more than half of all contacts with the police are related to vehicles. And almost all of these issues would likely go away once AVs take over the roads, meaning the number of law enforcement professionals could be cut in half without reducing public safety. That will save all levels of government a lot of money.
Government / Regulatory
As more politicians get behind AVs, the closing credibility gap has been a key theme in the last month.
In the U.K., the House of Commons Transport Select Committee has called for the creation of a minister for driverless cars. The Chair of the committee, Louise Ellman, said: “The government should be more active and have a much more holistic strategy to make sure this new technology has the maximum effect. We need someone in charge of this, looking across manufacturing, technology, regulation and testing.”
Further reinforcing the UK Government’s commitment to AVs, £100 million was allocated in its recent budget “to help fund research and development on the computer and telecoms systems needed to make the cars a reality.” Similar commitments are expected from businesses, thus clearly adding substance to the UK’s stated desire to be a global leader in this space.
Back on this side of the Atlantic, a bipartisan pair of US senators wants to make sure that federal regulators are getting ready for self-driving cars. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) sent a letter to the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ensure that it was prepared to “lay the foundation for autonomous vehicle technology.” Self-driving cars can “significantly reduce roadway accidents, shorten commutes, and increase productivity for the American people in the coming years,” the senators told NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “We look forward to working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to accelerate the safety benefits of this technology and encourage states as they consider its potential.”
The letter to NHTSA, reported by Burney Simpson of Driverless Transportation, also asked it to reconsider its 2013 policy recommendation to the states that the operation of autonomous vehicles be allowed only for testing purposes. Fischer and Booker are members of the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation, and NHTSA is a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Driverless Transportation, based in the US, has also written an article about how CAVCOE is helping cities prepare for the arrival of AVs. A key message from Burney Simpson's article is that learning about the potential impact of autonomous transportation has become part of the planning process for forward-thinking cities as they draft 30-year transportation plans.
We believe that credibility of the technology is a key requirement and that support by the top political leadership is vital. National leaders that have previously spoken about and/or been driven by AVs, have included France, UK and Japan. Now we can add the President of the United States to that list, as he makes a reference to ‘driverless cars’ in this video around the 7min 3secs mark.
Other AV Articles
A recent article in The Economist addressed recent reports about Apple’s car aspirations and dismissed the chances for Silicon Valley to disrupt traditional car makers. The article calls out Apple, Google, Uber, Tesla and Sony by name but also makes a blanket declaration that “established car makers, not tech firms, will win the race to build the vehicles of the future.”
Forbes, in a rebuttal article, says that The Economist article depends on five often-recited but weak assumptions to make its case that car makers will win. Forbes says "Not only are these assumptions faulty, they are dangerous because they are lulling some car makers (and companies in other potentially disrupted industries -- like insurers) into a false sense of security. The Forbes article and details on the five weak assumptions are here.
"Consumer Watchdog Cites Shortcomings In Driverless Car Technology; Says DMV Rules For Robot Cars Must Require Steering Wheel So Human Drivers Can Take Over" This article demonstrates the strength and depth of emerging opinion around AVs and their potential impacts. We are concerned that, in order to make key -points, statements and assumptions are being made about the technology from different perspectives, when in fact those assumptions might be incorrect. There is a startling contrast between "Robot Cars Must Require Steering Wheel So Human Drivers Can Take Over" and Google's real-world experience with humans as back-up drivers (see above).
The Vancouver Sun recently ran an article titled "Roads are opening to driverless cars -- But how will automated vehicles coexist with risky human motorists?" The article included inputs and quotes from CAVCOE's Paul Godsmark and CAVCOE Senior Associate, Homayoun Najjaran, who is also a professor at the University of British Columbia.
"How the ‘rise of the machines’ will transform oil and gas" is a good article in Alberta Oil on how automation is transforming the mining sector and may have an equal impact on the oil and gas industries. The article says that "Suncor Energy is currently piloting similar automation technology in its haul trucks, and could replace all of its drivers with autonomous technology by 2018, according to a Bloomberg report."
Upcoming AV-related Events
April 15-21, 2015: Transportation Association of Canada's 2015 Spring Technical Meetings; Ottawa, Ont.
April 23-24, 2015: Insurance Telematics Canada 2015; Toronto, Ont.
May 4-7, 2015: AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Conference and Trade Show; Atlanta, Georgia
May 5-6, 2015: 4th Annual Wavefront Summit; Ottawa, Ont.
May 24-28, 2015: ITS Canada's 2015 Annual Conference and General Meeting; Gatineau, QC.
June 16-19, 2015: CCMTA's Annual Meeting; Whitehorse, Yukon.
June 17-18, 2015: Autonomous Vehicle Test & Development Symposium 2015; Stuttgart, Germany.
July 21-23, 2015: AUVSI / TRB Automated Vehicles Symposium 2015, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI, USA.
September 17, 2015, Canadian Conference on Autonomous Vehicles, presented by CAVCOE and Transport Futures; Toronto, Ont.
October 5-9, 2015, ITS World Congress, Bordeaux, France
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