How private and public bodies must cooperate to ease mobility woes – Part II

From Part I

The road to autonomy

The panel of experts at Ford's Smart Mobility road show in Los Angeles were keen to hear if 2020 is still the target date for autonomous cars to hit the street. Tinskey says the industry is on a continuum to autonomous driving with lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control, and he says the “technology can be ready in five years” but restated the carmaker’s position that it’s not in a particular hurry to get there.

“I would say there’s a race to be first and we’ve declared we don’t want to be. We’re going at the pace the technology and policy will support. Ford does not want to be in a race to be the first one with an autonomous vehicle.’” Tinskey said to the dismay of some in the audience.

And the policy issues seem to be some of the biggest roadblocks on the road to autonomy.

“We’re looking at this world like the Jetsons in the future but the really interesting story is the transition to get there,” asserts UCLA Professor Taylor. “When we start having fully autonomous vehicles, we’ll still have 90% of the fleet with human drivers. They’re going to raise all sorts of questions.”

He cited infrastructure and V2V communication as two significant challenges and of course determining liability for who is at fault for failure of either or even human drivers. Taylor notes humans will be needed, at least initially, to take over driving at some times but the professor says data from commercial aircraft show people’s reactions and skills atrophy as we automate more controls.

The professor continued with what he termed “fascinating public policy issues” for a self-driving auto world: “BMW has found a lot of its customers want limited automation, they want to have control of the vehicle. What if you find those drivers are much less safe than the automated vehicles? Are we going to allow them to have control?

We have decades of a mixed system to deal with and that’s going to be a tremendous challenge from a planning and public policy standpoint.”

Tinskey agrees the tech is moving faster than policy. He also brought up Ford’s experiment to have drivers in an office setting available to take over for in-car drivers to help them through “an autonomous challenge” as he put it to step in and control the car until the driver has responded through “remote repositioning”. Tinskey says the process allows for full video streams of the vehicle and remote control of it. These features could potentially raise privacy and policy issues.

Taylor brought up a key demographic point about the move to autonomy, the smartphone gap: “The people who don’t have smartphone access are really left behind. It’s correlated and the single biggest factor is age. The young people have them ubiquitously, even in lower income areas.

“The world’s going to change a lot in the next few years,” Taylor notes, warning, “We have to worry about the ones left behind because they don’t have a smartphone.”

Ford has found older Americans would benefit from autonomous vehicles. Tinskey says their research shows the number of accidents after age 70 are “as high, or higher than at age 17.”

When looking at the horizon, Claire Bowin who led the LA Department of City Planning’s Mobility Plan 2035, laughed at the radically shifting mobility landscape. “We barely had a transit system here [in LA] 20 years ago and when we started our plan four years ago, Uber and Lyft were not part of the conversation, electric vehicles really weren’t and autonomous vehicles weren’t. So a lot can change in a short period of time.”

Tinskey agrees, noting Ford’s experiments including car-swapping among employees and car-sharing:

“We’re embracing change, not resisting it. There’s always going to be a need for vehicles, we’re trying to plan for higher usage. Vehicles are idle 95% of the time; people can use them in a more efficient manner. And we can offer a vehicle with the economics and features that people want.”

Tinskey would not elaborate on about whether that meant higher prices for shared vehicles Ford would sell, which could offset a decline in overall car sales in some urban markets.

He did say that behaviour change is happening thanks to connected cars that are giving some motorists a taste of autonomous driving with lane keep and self-parking features.

UCLA’s Taylor summed it up, pointing out the LA area is a “vibrant place with lots of opportunities but to say we want a metro area of 16M people who can drive at 65mph at peak periods, we could do that but it would be so wildly expensive that it would be very useful to do.”

He adds, people will change their habits and modes of transportation as convenience and lower prices converge: “For most people driving is the rational choice. Autonomy will create more situations where means other than driving makes sense.”


Leave a comment

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