Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment

A Chance to Reinvent the Way We Live – Thanks to MaaS & More

Image of the speakers at the closing plenary of the 2018 Innovation and Impact
Closing Plenary Speakers

A recurring idea at the Prospect SV 2018 Impact and Innovation conference is that changes to mobility will have the potential for significantly large positive impacts on the built environment and energy consumption. Speakers at the conference embraced these upcoming changes as opportunities to improve the quality of life, particularly in urban areas. Jesse Denver, DER Program Manager for the City and the County of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, suggested that these changes provide a “Chance to reinvent the way we live.”

To some extent, these changes will take place at the grassroots level and Denver suggested that, “City government is where you can make the change.” This was echoed by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo who said that, “The cities that succeed will be those that embrace risk.” At the same time, he warned that not doing anything is a perilous path.

Ruth Cox CEO of PropectSV interviewed at the 2018 Innovation and Impact Summit.
For More Innovation & Impact Coverage, See This Interview with Ruth Cox

And with its autonomous RFI, San Jose is pushing the edge of what is possible. Unfortunately, neither he nor Shireen Santosham, the CIO in the San Jose Mayor’s Office, provided a clue as to which companies are the finalists of San Jose’s autonomous RFI. Along the same lines, Casey Emoto, Deputy Director of the Santa Clara VTA, stated they have a plan for implementing ADA compliant autonomous shuttles to shuttle veterans to VA hospital in Palo Alto (apparently there will be an RFI process to find a 3rd-party to provide the shuttles).

In the short-term, service providers won’t be able to charge for their service or provide fare-splitting (e.g. ride-sharing) in California, as the CPUC decided, coincidentally on the same day as the Innovation and Impact Summit, that autonomous mobility services will effectively be non-commercial while the CPUC develops a regulatory framework. The CPUC is anticipating this framework to be in place by the first quarter of 2019, which would seem to fit plans for commercial service from both GM and Waymo.

An image of the Waymo FCA Pacifca Hybrid Mini Van.
Waymo FCA Pacifca Hybrid Mini Van. Image courtesy of Waymo

Waymo announced, on the morning of the Innovation and Impact Summit, their intent to purchase up to 62,000 Pacifica Hybrid mini-vans from FCA. This was especially timely for the Impact and Innovation Summit as Waymo’s Head of Local Policy, Ellie Casson was able to provide context about this announcement, as well as details of Waymo’s approach, including:

  • Casson stressed that Waymo is pursuing a rideshare or Mobility as a Service (MaaS)” approach, as opposed to selling technology to others. As she put it, “Waymo’s focus is on building the driver” (e.g. the autonomous control), while others (e.g. Jaguar, FCA) build the vehicles. [Note, this would seem to contradict the press release which states the Waymo technology could potentially be available to FCA retail customers, but business models evolve so it is probably too early to speculate.]
  • One of the advantages of the MaaS business model is that Waymo is in control of the entire system, which makes it easier to protect against hacking (e.g. think Chromebooks which are updated by Google, as opposed to the sporadic updates of the end-user in the traditional PC environment). She indicated that, “The vehicles can communicate to each other in real-time…however the car is making decisions independently and on-board, so their network is less vulnerable to hacking.”
  • Another advantage to MaaS is it will allow Waymo to deliver a consistent quality of experience. And that consistent quality of experience will require a human-centric operations approach. Casson mentioned that they are adding people internally, as well as extending their reach through partnerships, such as Avis (she did not mention Waymo’s partnership with Auto Nation).
  • Waymo’s teleoperator function appears to be more of a customer service play as opposed to an operational requirement. A remote operator will provide customer service if a vehicle decides to pull over or if there is some issue that needs a human touch.
  • Waymo’s vehicles are truly autonomous and do not require connectivity to operate. Casson indicated that it would not be a smart business model to have to wait for a 5G infrastructure and/or associated roadway sensors. It also wouldn’t make sense for cites to have to foot the bill to enable autonomous vehicles and the delay and potential cost would destroy the MaaS business model.
  • Waymo sees local governments as another important partnership for a successful service. For example, training local fire and Emergency Medical Technicians in how to deal with the Waymo vehicles in the event of a crash is the type of activity that is necessary for commercial rollout.
  • She described how human-driven vehicles pre-map routes in a geo-fenced service area. As the autonomous vehicles traverse their routes, they continually update the initial maps and create a treasure trove of data that is shared when the vehicles return to their respective depots. It will be interesting to see to what extent Waymo shares this data with local government; data that could be very valuable for road infrastructure and urban planning.
  • She indicated that their goal is to create a service that doesn’t burden or require changes to local infrastructure. Echoing the words of Princeton’s Dr. Kornhauser, Casson suggested that if cities do things that help human drivers (e.g., better signage, good road markings), it will help Waymo’s autonomous vehicles find navigate the streets.
  • Planners will have to start thinking more about curb management, as there will need to be more curb space for pick-up/drop-off as MaaS offerings become more popular. This becomes critical, as Casson pointed out that Waymo’s vehicles are programmed to not violate rules, so double parking (as often happens with human-driven rideshare services) is something that wouldn’t happen with their service. The question is what elements (e.g., charging, payments for time-of-use) are needed in the future to make a curb smart? At the same time, as parking and fuel tax revenues decrease, municipal and state agencies will need to find new ways to pay for infrastructure.
Waymo mini van in an urban environment.
Waymo in urban environment Image courtesy of Waymo

That MaaS will change the demands on public infrastructure is an opportunity, according to Stuart Cohen, Founding Executive Director of TransForm. He suggested that cities ensure that shared vehicles get priority over single occupancy vehicles to maximize the benefits resulting from driverless vehicles. He stressed that it will be important for policymakers to consider how to achieve multiple objectives, as they react to and create policies that reflect the upcoming changes in mobility and the resulting changes in land-use.

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on independent telcos’ efforts to offer video to their customers. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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