Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment Smart Driving Car Summit

A Tipping Point or a Fork in the Road

The hypothesis is that that pandemic has forever changed the way we live, work, play, and, most importantly interact, says Dr. Reggie Caudill, Dean Emeritus Martin Tuchman School of Management, NJIT. In making this statement, Caudill set the stage for the latest Smart Car Summit panel on autonomous mobility, At the Tipping Point, for which he was the moderatoror.

Changing Lifestyle – Changing Mobility Patterns #

Rutgers’ Dean Emeritus, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, James Hughes, as always presented an entertaining and informative background on how the pandemic has served as an accelerant for

  • Work from Home
  • E-Commerce
  • The continued carnage of bricks and mortar retail
The evolving role of headquarters. Image courtesy of James Hughes.
The evolving role of headquarters. Image courtesy of James Hughes.

His depiction of a “K” recovery is what he describes as two-lanes whereby in one lane are those who are benefiting, while in the other lane are those who are suffering from under/unemployment.  For the former, they are able to live, learn, work, and play from their home.

Those people who can work from home are spending less time commuting (according to a University of Chicago study, 60M fewer hours per day commuting) and more time actually working (22M hour per day increase in working according to that same study). From a business perspective, this points to a long-term shift from “Headquarters as a Hub” to Headquarters as a Network.” predicts Hughes.

For details on Hughes analysis of the pandemic-caused changes, please see the report, Coronavirus economic impact continues: the year of contraction (2020) yields to the year of rebound (2021). Co-authored by James, Connie Hughes, and Joseph Seneca, the forward provides a heartfelt tribute to Seneca; Hughes’ long-time collaborator who passed away in November 2020.

This change, along with a pandemic-caused shift to suburb living, will shift traffic to more mesh-like like patterns. Hughes suggests that the growth of e-commerce will mean distribution hubs closer to where people live. In some cases, these depots will replace the shuttered retail spaces and provide an interface for last-mile deliveries.

Selika Talbott, Professorial Lecturer Department of Public Administration and Policy of the American University, spoke of the potentially favorable economics of autonomous package delivery and how that offers the potential for low-cost fresh food delivery into food deserts, whether those are in urban or rural locales.

Safety Data Transparency Is a Must-Have #

Sam Schwartz, aka, @GridlockSam, posits that “For the AV (autonomous vehicle) industry to advance it must be transparent about safety.” Using the Westway project in New York as an example, he warns that the lack of transparency could be the death knell for AV.  He doesn’t believe that the industry players are as forthcoming about their safety record as they should be.

Sam Schwartz presenting at the Smart Driving Car Summit
Sam Schwartz presenting at the Smart Driving Car Summit

Schwartz made a plea for the industry to provide better data. From what he has been able to discern, even industry leader Waymo isn’t up to the safety level of a conventional driver having a crash every 127k versus 470k miles for a human-driven car.

Advanced Driving Assistant System (ADAS) features like Telsa’s Autopilot, have issues, as documented by the website, Further evidence of the deficiencies is found in the vehicle manuals describing the limitations of the associated ADAS.  This is important for not only keeping the person inside the car safe but for protecting the pedestrian (a 50% rise in pedestrian fatalities in the 10-year period ending in 2019, according to research from Schwarz).

To provide a visual of AAA’s 2019 report on pedestrian detection and automatic braking and the nascent state of the technology, Schwartz presented videos from the testing AAA performed on a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, and Tesla Model 3. See this analysis of that testing, as well as results from EuroNCAP that showed different results for the Model 3.

Economic and Social Benefits Should Be the Driver #

Autonomous vehicle safety is table stakes, but, as articulated by Compass Technologies’ Richard Mudge, the motivation should be the economic and social benefits that AVs can bring.  Pointing to Hughes’ data that trips of the future will tend to be distributed instead of centralized, Mudge suggests that we need to look at transit in a new way.

Local Motors' autonomous vehicle, Olli, sharing the road at Peachtree Corners, GA's real-world lab; Curiosity Lab.
Autonomous Vehicle Olli sharing the road at the Peachtree City, GA Curiosity Lab.

Schwartz agrees that AV has a role for transit in the future, particularly for micro-transit and smaller, right-size vehicles. He pointed to the railless guided bus system (ART) developed in China (video) as a feeder system of sorts. Schwartz believes that equity should be the driving factor in terms of developing new mobility and that transit will provide more opportunity than private ownership.

American Universities’ Talbot believes that autonomy means building a new network, which probably includes a mix of public and private. The important thing is to create low-cost, high-quality mobility options, as those will create upward economic mobility.

Marc Scribner, Senior Transportation Policy Analyst of the Reason Foundation, reinforces this point by suggesting that outside of New York City and a few other cities, public transit is trivial in terms of the number of trips provided. Smart Driving Car Summit organizer, Alain Kornhauser argues that low-cost mobility will open opportunities to anybody, regardless of who they are or their abilities.

The University of Texas Professor and Dewitt Greer Centennial Professor of Transportation Engineering Kara Kockelman references their findings suggesting that only 20 to 25% of people would pick a Shared Autonomous Vehicle (SAV) if it cost between $0.50 to $1 per mile (and even fewer if the ride was at night see this paper PDF). So the positive impact of shared transportation might not be as great as its potential. Still, for those who might not be able to afford personal car ownership, on-demand, shared mobility could be a life-changer.

Public, Private, or Take the Fork #

Driverless last-mile delivery utilizing shuttered retail spaces. Image courtesy of Jame Hughes
Driverless last-mile delivery utilizing shuttered retail spaces. Image courtesy of Jame Hughes

Scribner says that from a policy perspective, a bright-line needs to be drawn between technologies that support the human driver versus that technology that replaces the driver. Scribner believes the Biden administration is well-positioned to advance autonomous driving and there is bipartisan interest in getting disengagement and crash data.

At the same time, modernizing the regulations will take some time, and that regulating before there is technical consensus is a concern. He advocates that Congress raise the 5,000 vehicle limit that NHTSA may exempt during a two-year period time, as he states that exemptions are valuable in providing information for updating NHTSA regulations.

Kornhauser stresses that it is important for policymakers and regulators to recognize two distinct markets for autonomy and that their application of policy and regulation needs to fit each market

  1. The vehicles we own
  2. And the vehicles that take us places

And to that second category, one could imagine the addition of a subcategory, the vehicles that bring goods and services to us, such as Nuro’s R2X.

Stay tuned for next week’s session, where experts from Aurora, Rand Corporation, and Waymo will discuss just what is safe enough for a given operational design domain.

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. 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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