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Autonomous Vehicles When? Thoughts and Commentary

Autonomous Vehicles When? Thoughts and Commentary

by Bill Zachry, SCIF Board Member

One of the biggest challenges that our society will experience in the next generation will be to transition from human driven cars to autonomous vehicles (AV).

One only has to listen to the Beach Boys to understand the deep relationship that most of the American public has with their automobiles. Cultural resistance to implementing autonomous vehicles include concerns over hackers, loss of a pleasurable experience, the perceived need for control, and safety concerns.

Jeff White (the innovation guru at The Accident Fund) commented that when he attended the Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Show in 2016the presentations from companies that were developing autonomous vehicles were all about the technical challenges of staying safely in the correct lane. The next year at the same show, the companies said that for the most part, they had mastered the technology needed for autonomous vehicles. Their new challenges are to program the choices made by driverless cars based on the understanding and matching the expectations of human drivers, and to get past the resistance of the population to give up control and ownership of their automobiles.

The real question is how long it will take for us to achieve full acceptance of

Using the technological implementation and social acceptance of cellular phones as a template for implementing the technology and universal acceptance of autonomous vehicles; I believe that full technological development and acceptance on a legal basis will take fifteen years. However, I believe that culturally it will take our society more than thirty years to fully accept and implement the radical changes that accompany autonomous vehicles.

Predictions, Thoughts and Comments on Autonomous Vehicles:

  • AVs are inevitable. The big question facing us is how long will it take for our society to implement the technology?
  • The answer to this question is based on economics and societal shifts. Barriers to fully implementing autonomous vehicles are our social reluctance to give up driving, the legal landscape and the physical infrastructure. Our laws, rules, and regulations focus on individual responsibility and ownership. It will take years for state legislatures to catch up to the changes in liability, ownership, and technology. Our nation’s parking lots, garages, fuel stations, roads, and highways are not designed for autonomous vehicles. Changing the width of our lanes, removing parking spaces and parking lots, and limiting garages will take several generations and billions of dollars.
  • To fully implement autonomous vehicles in the USA, it will not be necessary to fully replace all the existing cars and trucks on the road. On average, cars are parked 95% of the time. A recent report in Driverless Car Market Watch reported that all the large automobile manufacturers have announced that they will be producing and selling fully autonomous vehicles by 2021 (most, earlier than that date). By 2021 automobile manufacturers will be capable of producing 20M autonomous vehicles a year. Assuming the peak demands of travel will be commuting hours, if autonomous vehicles are used full-time (in a sharing economy)rather than only 5% of the time, manufacturers will be capable of producing enough vehicles to meet the demand to achieve full implementation by 2025.
  • A potential delay in the widespread implementation of autonomous vehicles is the expense and difficulty in “After Market” retrofitting of existing automobiles. According to an annual study by IHS Automotive, an auto industry research firm, there are currently 253 million registered cars and trucks on U.S. roads. The technology companies and automobile manufacturers, which are developing autonomous vehicles, have been focused on developing the appropriate technology for new vehicles. Difficulties with creating and then installing aftermarket technology include the wide variation of size, age, and pre-existing onboard technology for our nation’s fleet.
  • In a presentation by Chris Urmson (Google’s Thought Leader on Autonomous Vehicles) he calculated that in 2016, vehicles in the U.S. traveled about 3.2 trillion miles. If you could bring technology to bear to reduce the cost or increase the quality of those miles and charge 10 cents per mile, that would add up to$300 billion in annual revenue—just in the U.S. Chris Urmson’s equation (3 trillion VMT * $0.10 per mile = $300B per year) is an explanation of what is driving the market infatuation with Transportation as a Service (TaaS) business models. The leading contenders in the emerging space, Uber, Lyft, and Didi and Tesla, have a combined market valuation far exceeding$110 billion—roughly equal to the market value of GM, Ford and Chrysler. The race is to see who reaps this increased value.
  • An ideal autonomous vehicle process will result in fewer accidents, less spent on automobile repairs, fewer deaths, reduced insurance costs, reduced fuel consumption. It will also produce increased economic efficiency by fully the vehicles most of the day rather than only 5% of the time. Autonomous vehicles in an asset-sharing model will also eliminate the need for garages in our homes, parking lots, and parking spaces on roads.
  • High fuel costs initially drove speed limits down and increased our vehicle efficiency ratings. A significant increase in gasoline prices would push up the timelines for implementing autonomous vehicles. As long as there is relatively inexpensive fuel, the demand for changes will be lower.
  • Incremental driver assistance systems (which are now being installed in many of the more expensive vehicles) may not be able to fully evolve into driverless cars. One of the open debates over autonomous vehicles is the approach of making incremental system improvements towards autonomous vehicles each year eventually resulting in system-wide autonomous vehicles. The other approach is fully developing new autonomous technology and hardware. It is believed by many in the industry that the incremental approach will guide developers down to a selection of technologies that will limit the ability to bridge over to fully driverless capabilities.
  • Full implementation of autonomous vehicles will reduce the demand for truck drivers, crane operators in ports, farm workers, police, highway patrol officers, auto insurance claims adjusters, auto repair technicians and even reduce demand on hospital emergency room personnel.
  • When transportation is fully autonomous, the frequency and severity of automobile accidents on the highways and free ways will almost be totally eliminated. This is due to the IoT learning process. Every time there is an accident involving any autonomous vehicle, it is an opportunity for the entire fleet to be reprogramed to avoid an accident involving the same scenario. Humans do not learn from the experience of the whole. Vehicles accounted for 40,000 deaths, 2.4 million injured and 6.3 million police-reported vehicle accidents in 2015. Other than the Opioid epidemic (33,000 died from the epidemic last year), vehicles are the biggest cause of premature death in the United State. Where will the medical community find the organ donors with reduced accident frequency?
  • Autonomous vehicles will make it safer for motorcycles to be on the road. In 2014 14% of all deaths on the roads were associated with motorcycle accidents. This number will be drastically reduced.
  • With a sharing economy one will probably pay more for a “single passenger” and less if there are several passengers in the vehicle. Income, the time of day and desire to “go it alone” will determine if the ride is shared with others or a single passenger.
  • The interior design and technology of autonomous vehicles will eventually be radically different than our current vehicles. For instance, there will be vehicles designed for long trips, which may include bed space and bathrooms while vehicles designed for short trips may be radically smaller with significantly less storage space.
  • With no need for bumpers, or other heavy metal, the autonomous vehicles should be much lighter which will create additional fuel savings. This transition will take years to change because of the many laws currently on the books requiring lights, bumpers and other safety equipment which will be unnecessary when there are only autonomous vehicles on the road.
  • Electronic vehicles are being initially designed as autonomous vehicles. It is too early to determine if all of the autonomous vehicles will be electronic. For long hauls, gasoline or diesel may be used as the fuel of choice.
  • By 2050, connected autonomous vehicles could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 44 percent for passenger vehicles and 18 percent for trucks, according to a new study released by the Energy Information Administration.
  • An autonomous vehicle fleet will also reduce or eliminate the need for traffic lights. To experience this, all one has to do is go to Vietnam and walk across the street…No one there stops for lights or cross traffic. The cars and motorcycles just drive around the pedestrians without hitting them. This is an example of efficiency in heavy traffic.
  • Currently, speed limits are primarily set for three reasons; pedestrian safety, public safety (other vehicles) and fuel consumption. Autonomous vehicles will have a profound impact on pedestrian and public safety as well as initially significantly reducing fuel consumption by automobiles exceeding the speed limit. The question of appropriate speed limits on the highways will be an economic one made by the Federal Government or by State Governments over how much energy should be used in transportation.
  • Autonomous vehicles will reduce the level of auto-involved fraud and abuse. There will be fewer stolen cars, and fewer “swoop and squat” accidents happening in Los Angeles.
  • Autonomous vehicles will reduce the demand for roadside fast food restaurants. With autonomous vehicles, people will be able to bring their own food and eat it in the cars. Stopping will be primarily for bio breaks, which will probably increase the volum eof traffic in Starbucks. Starbucks has eliminated gas stations as “the stop of choice” for bio breaks.
  • More people will increase their use of restaurants because of the ease of transportation as well as the elimination of worry associated with the expense and difficulty in finding parking. Asa result, there will be an increase in the demand for service workers in the restaurant community.
  • Autonomous vehicles will increase the use of alcohol. The worry about drinking and driving will go away which will allow no one to be the designated driver. This will help increase the profitability of some bars and restaurants.
  • Another impact of autonomous vehicles is the elimination or reduction of drunk drivers on the roads. There are already studies showing that as Uber has increased its penetration in the market there has been a significant corresponding reduction in the number of arrests for drunk driving.
  • Autonomous vehicles will significantly change the State and local police focus and income. Without drunk drivers, and with fewer automobile accidents, there will be a significant reduction in the need for police to attend to these issues. In some jurisdictions, this will totally eliminate a significant source of income (vehicle citations) for many cities. The need for State Highway Patrol Officers will be significantly reduced. The savings in salaries and pension costs will be significant. It is apocryphal that when a car recently hit a Google vehicle that the police report(including video, weather, and extent of damage) was automatically sent to the police department within a few minutes of the accident.
  • Police chases (and the dangers associated with these events) will be a thing of the past. Police will be able to either shut down a vehicle or if they can’t shut it down can program their cars to safely follow another vehicle until it eventually stops.
  • There will be a change from the DMV to another method of Government issues identification process. With this change will be an associated discussion of privacy, and transportation security.
  • Autonomous vehicles will improve presenteeism and reduce absenteeism at work. The fatigue of driving should be eliminated. The replacement of wasted commute hours with napping or productive work time should improve employee productivity at work. Some companies continue to evolve towards more employees working from their homes, while other companies find that employee interaction at the office is crucial for achieving superior collaboration and bottom-line results. Autonomous vehicles will impact these discussions.
  • Group health medical care will improve for the elderly. With autonomous vehicles, it will be easier for the elderly to make it to the doctor’s office for prophylactic care. Scheduling will be easier, and the trips will be far less arduous for the elderly.
  • Architecture will change. 120 years ago, most houses and cities needed to accommodate horses. With the advent of automobiles came the garage. With a sharing economy, the need for a garage goes away (OK where will I put the Halloween stuff??).
  • Because of the increased ease of use and lower costs of longer trips autonomous vehicles have the potential of putting additional population pressures on rural locations.
  • Walking in the cities may be easier and less dangerous with autonomous vehicles. Eventually most cities will be re-designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles because autonomous vehicles will eliminate much of the street parking and congestion.
  • Not all of the garages and auto repair shops will disappear. Currently most vehicles (airplanes are an exception) are used 5% of the time. The other 95% of the time they are parked somewhere. The need for maintenance and technical upgrades will increase as vehicles are used more of the time. This will bean opportunity for skilled technicians. Currently, I do not see the education community preparing for this demand. There will initially also be a demand for technicians who can install after-market autonomous equipment and technology.
  • Most of the small local auto repair shops will disappear as the frequency and severity of accidents are eliminated.
  • I am going to miss Flo and the GEICO gecko advertisements. The need for automobile insurance will change significantly.
  • If autonomous vehicles are electric and are used more than the current 5% of the time, there will be a significant need for quicker charging stations and many more locations to keep the fleet going. Servicing these demands will replace many of the current gas stations. If most of the fleet is electronic, initially, there may also be a corresponding increase in the demand for solar panels.
  • It is not a good time to invest in auto parts stores.
  • There may be designated locations (quaint towns in Vermont, or remote national forest locations) where people can still drive their vintage cars and trucks. In 40 years, there may be a huge demand for specialty tracks where people can still actually drive vintage cars.
  • The initial evolution on our roads will be the current HOV lanes on freeways, which in 10 years’ time will be designated for autonomous vehicles only.
  • Though there will be fewer vehicles, the turnover will be relatively quick compared to our current life expectancy of our vehicles. Though there may be a reduced demand, there will continue to be a need for a vibrant automobile manufacturing industry.
  • Cab medallions are a poor investment.

Public Transportation will also be caught up in the tsunami caused by autonomous vehicles.

  • If the highways can be used more efficiently, and trip time from point a to point b reduced, will there still be a demand for public transportation?
  • I think there will be at least a 30% drop in the demand for some for the existing public transportation as the highways become more efficient.
  • If parking is no longer an issue why not take an autonomous vehicle?
  • With the drop in demand for public transportation will there also be a drop in the jobs associated with this industry?
  • Autonomous vehicles will also reduce the number of drivers in the public transportation industry.

Uber / Lyft comments:

  • It is interesting to watch Uber and its business model. Uber has announced that it will be fully using autonomous vehicles by2030. It is currently experimenting with autonomous vehicles in Phoenix and other cities. When I was in London last summer the London Cabbies all commented on how they would be out of business in five years. That is a middle-class job in London. It takes over two years for a cabbie to qualify to drive a cab there. Where Uber / Lyft are present, cab companies are going bankrupt. For the past 50 years, in the USA, the cab business was one way for ambitious immigrants to integrate into the American society. Following the Apple model (first disrupt the music business with a device and then take the device away and go to the cloud), Uber and Lyft are first disrupting the transportation business with a shared model and then is planning to take all of the human element out of it by going to autonomous driving cars.
  • In an unofficial survey of the drivers, most are working part time, supplementing their retirement incomes or are between jobs. What will happen to these people who are mostly otherwise displaced from the workforce when they no longer have access to this income?
  • As part of the initial triage of a claim, should Uber or Lyft be contracted to take all of the injured workers to the clinic?
  • I think that using Uber will cost approximately five dollars per trip. Using a ride sharing vehicle will allow the employer to know that the employee is going to the right clinic (right doctor) on a timely basis. Can or will the use of Uber or Lyft reduce litigation and improve network penetration?

I am a great proponent of autonomous driving vehicles. I can hardly wait to go online, order my car and go from point A to point B without having to pay attention to anything but the scenery and my words with friends, games (or perhaps get a nap on the trip).

However, getting from now to then will take a significant effort on everyone’s part; and will not be without its angst and disruption.

It is important for us to educate ourselves on how the changes may impact us, deliberate on what we want to do with the opportunities that will come with autonomous vehicles, and prepare for these changes that will impact our lives.

In the meantime, … I am going out for my Sunday drive…

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