AV Players Seeking New Ways to Reach the Public & Lawmakers

Vehicle automation is a mystery to most consumers and lawmakers, and the technology won’t succeed without a major education campaign, automotive power players said at the 2019 International CES.

“People don’t understand what’s happening,” said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, who appeared on a January 9 panel with leaders from Audi, Intel’s Mobileye division and AV startup Aurora. (Hersman is set to become Waymo’s first Chief Safety Officer this month.) In addition to worrying about the safety of self-driving cars now roaming the streets of some cities, many consumers are in the dark about their own vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), Hersman said.

The National Safety Council and the companies represented on the panel are founding members of Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), the organization launched on Monday by several car automation vendors and nonprofit groups. PAVE says its goal isn’t advocating for AVs and driver assistance but informing the public and regulators.

The developers of partial and full automation systems have talked about them largely in engineering terms, such as the Level 0-5 rubric put forth by the Society of Automotive Engineers, and that’s not enough to get a useful discussion going, said Chris Urmson, the CEO of Aurora and former head of Google’s self-driving car project.

“It’s up to us to do a better job of translating that,” Urmson said.

PAVE has said it will hold a series of public demonstrations of AV technology around the US this year to give consumers a firsthand look at AVs. It also plans workshops for federal, state and local policymakers. The curriculum will be developed with universities, the group says.

Other PAVE members include the American Public Transportation Association and the National Federation of the Blind, along with big industry names like Waymo, Nvidia, Toyota and General Motors. A diverse membership will let different views “cross-check” each other, said the Safety Council’s Hersman. “We don’t want this to be a marketing campaign,” she said.

All the panelists on Wednesday did say vehicle automation has major benefits to society that shouldn’t be missed. But there’s much work to be done setting the terms of the discussion, they said.

For one thing, how safe is safe enough?

Collisions involving AVs, especially the fatal pedestrian crash of an Uber test vehicle last March, have sparked calls for self-driving cars that are 1,000 times safer than human-driven vehicles. But in deciding how much safer AVs need to be, society should also consider how many deaths they may prevent, Urmson said.

If self-driving cars were just twice as safe as current vehicles, they might count as one of the biggest safety innovations ever, even if the annual US fatality rate was near 20,000 per year, he said. It was nearly 40,000 per year in 2017.

“It’s a real ethical question that is not for me to answer,” said Alexandre Haag, CTO of Audi’s Autonomous Intelligent Driving subsidiary. Without knowing what is considered an acceptable goal, through regulation or otherwise, it’s hard to know what to tell his team what to build, Haag said.

With federal AV legislation having failed in the last Congress, the industry suffers from under-regulation in this country, Haag said. But another danger is over-regulation, which could take place if competing vendors rush out technology that causes tragedies, Hersman said. Rivals need to look beyond corporate self-interest long enough to cooperate on educating the public and lawmakers, she said.

“One of the fastest ways to get to over-regulation is to be irresponsible about deployment,” Hersman said.

Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *