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AV deployment – so far, yet so near

Key takeaways from Autonomous Car Detroit 2017

Jumping into a car, stating where you want to go, and kicking back with a cup of coffee and a movie while being chauffeured to your destination by a driverless car – it’s long been the stuff of dreams. The remarkable advances in autonomous vehicle (AV) technology are thanks to the innovations of OEMs, Tier 1s, technology companies and even policy makers. At Autonomous Car Detroit – a one-day event hosted by Automotive Megatrends – industry experts came together to debate the issues facing AV deployment. Michael Nash summarises the key takeaways

Safety first

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show road traffic deaths are on the rise, and although safety tech in the automotive industry has come a long way in recent years, the widespread deployment of AVs may be the only way to achieve ‘Vision Zero’. Ironically, while intended to be life-saving, humans naturally approach new technology with caution, especially when it could be life threatening. Michael James of Toyota Research Institute (TRI) thinks today’s consumers are reluctant to place their trust in AVs – firstly because they don’t yet have faith in the technology, and secondly because of exposure and vulnerability to hacking.

Sharing is caring

You’re young, living in a bustling megacity, and reading/working/surfing during your train commute has become one of your favourite pastimes. Driving isn’t an option: car parking is a challenge and expensive to come by, but ride-sharing may be useful for the last mile or two of most of your journeys. De la Vergne has good news for you: he thinks autonomous and electrified ride-sharing fleets could soon pop up in cities all over the world.

Legislation

With such rapid advances in AV technology, legislation is in danger of falling behind. It’s the view of Ian Graig, Chief Executive of Global Policy Group, that writing policy is a lengthy process, and therefore AVs “pose a real challenge to how legislation has traditionally been made.” Although it could be vital for the technology’s success, Matt Smith, Michigan Department of Transportation, warned that delays in the construction of a legislative framework run the risk of delaying AV deployment.

Tried and tested?

Part of NHTSA’s recent proposal for a legislative framework included governance on testing AV technology. Numerous OEMs already have licenses to test AVs on public roads, and some ride-sharing companies have made AVs available to the general public. James of TRI holds the view that testing is critical to decipher what needs to be done before AVs can be widely adopted: “Nobody has an answer to what performance levels we require from these vehicles. Is it human-level or is it beyond? Real-world tests are crucial for us to find out.”

Mobility for all

Central to the pro-AV argument is making mobility easier and more accessible, though price is a concern. Mark de la Vergne, the City of Detroit’s Chief of Mobility Innovation, suggested that AVs should not be a symbol of income, status or class, but should be available to everyone. Could there be such thing as a low-cost entry-level AV? Today the technology is expensive, but with scale comes affordability. Autonomous taxis could also make transport easier for less mobile individuals, helping them obtain the independence they crave, said Carla Bailo of Ohio State University.


This article appeared in the Q2 2017 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue