Driverless Conference Sparks Autonomous Development Analysis
GPS and GNSS have changed the world. Of that there can be no doubt. But in terms of sheer change, both qualitative and quantitative — we ain’t seen nothing yet.
We are at the creation of an industry. This will be very disruptive. We’ve had change instituted by GNSS; we know what that looks like. We haven’t yet seen a true revolution.
We’re witnessing the birth of something entirely new, and there are many things we don’t yet have a clue about.
In just one instance, do automakers disappear as OEMs — do they become Tier 1 suppliers to Google, Uber and Lyft?
Further: What happens to that great American institution, the private car? The relationship between the individual and its four-wheeled extension?
Because of the massive impact of this particular rollout of GNSS-enabled capabilities, I am devoting this issue of the GNSS Design & Test e-newsletter to it, even though it is not in itself a system in space. It is the most radical transformation on Earth yet seen, driven by our systems in space.
The following are notes from the top of my head, or from the frontal lobe of my awareness, while sitting in the audience at the Driverless Conference on March 23 in San Francisco.
“In the early 90s, when I was part of a government ride-sharing initiative, we used to talk about these new portable devices bringing data communication into … wherever we go. Now they’re here, and they’re well established. Very soon, this is going to change things, and enable many of the things we’ve only talked and dreamed about so far.” Thus spoke Steve Wollenberg of Automatiks, chairing and opening the conference.
“We’re at the confluence of great technological developments. We’re seeing great acceleration of all of them.”
Virtually all of the speakers, all of these driverless enthusiasts, really love cars. Some even own up to collecting them, having multiples in their home garage(s). A bit wistfully, Wollenberg foresaw the new control technology taking over public roadways. “In ten years, racetracks may be the only place where you’re allowed to drive your own vehicle.”
“Four years is the entire lifetime of the ridesharing industry,” said Emily Castor of Lyft, who by virtue of her tenure there for that period, can be termed an industry veteran. “We’ve seen a full-about turn in the regulatory environment. We see ride-sharing as the stepping stone to a world in which people no longer drive vehicles. Getting an autonomous vehicle on demand through a shared network will be much easier and cheaper than owning a private vehicle.”
Lyft talked with General Motors last year, and found a shared vision of shared use.
Amitai Bin-Nun from Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), a non-partisan advocacy organization with business leadership, introduced his organization’s broad mission: reducing U.S. petroleum dependence. Instability in parts of the world is fueled by our petroleum dependence.
“This is a hard process. It takes a long time to overturn an established system.” A key obstacle is little compelling new consumer experience, currently. Using connected and autonomous vehicles in a ride-sharing network is an opportunity to get this new experience, and drive the transformative process. Re-order the transportation system.
Mariel Devisa of Travelers Insurance announced that Travelers has launched a ride-share insurance product, live now in 16 states.
In fairly conservative industries — automotive and insurance — with long-established partners and practices, the efforts to move and change are quite frankly surprising and faster than anticipated, according to moderator Wollenberg. “It’s a fun time.”
Steve Boyd of Peloton made the case that trucking fleets can serve a critical role in pushing the technology forward because some segments move faster than others. Getting state approvals without having to go federal is the route being pursued now. That will enable early adoption of commercial pathways: freight truck, platooning and drafting. Volvo, Intel, Nokia, Denso, UPS and a number of others are involved.
Boyd announced a set of fleet trials this year, starting in Texas, “a very truck-friendly state.” Legislative approval has passed and pending in several states to enable trials. Prospective customers are already lined up in the freight space.
In Europe, an April 6 EU Platooning Challenge will take place in Rotterdam. The Netherlands is leading the EU in the current cycle to approve truck platooning by early 2018.
There’s “a platooning gap” developing between the U.S. and Europe. Silicon Valley may lead on the technology, but if this is not matched by activity on the regulatory side, it will lose out to other areas that aggressively pursue approvals as well as technology.
Traditionally, the automotive and trucking OEM industries have been very competitive, but now they are seeing the necessity to collaborate to push the policy side forward. This is happening in the insurance industry, too. Competition will certainly still be there, but to enable vehicle-to-vehicle communication a broad measure of collaboration will be necessary.
The road environment today is very imperfect, with many thousands of fatalities and countless more serious injuries. Trucks drive too close together. Highway safety needs innovation and regulatory change in order to improve.
Can’t count on the ability of the driver to retake control of the vehicle in 5 or 10 seconds. So the vehicle needs to be able to take care of itself — fully. An evolutionary approach may not work. Others are bringing services into the vehicle one by one, gradually.
How engaged will the driver be, and in what timeframe? A shift in thinking currently underway.
Traditionally, a 5- to 7-year product cycle in automotive, starting in upmarket vehicles. Examples: adaptive cruise control (to follow the car in front of you at a set distance), lane-keeping assistance. Multiple products and product cycles, thus multiple decades. 220 million vehicles owned by households. An integrative approach to autonomy will take a long, long time.