Wednesday, 5 March 2014

'Designing a Driverless World'

It was a pleasure to be invited by Arup to participate in the 'Designing a Driverless World' workshop down in San Francisco on Feb 6, 2014.

The hosts, Arup, are a consulting engineering company that I had the pleasure to work for in both the Republic of Ireland in England, for four years in the not so distant past.  Arup are a really interesting company that remain privately owned, despite being big enough to compete with anyone for the design of major infrastructure projects.  They also invest a significant sum in research and development and have their own Foresight, Research and Innovation people. In my personal opinion you might consider them the Cadillac, or Rolls Royce (depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on) of Consulting Engineers.

So it was a pleasure to spend time with my fellow consulting engineers, transportation planners, urban planners, transit operators, developers, architects etc. that really seemed to have a rapidly growing awareness of what is coming with automated vehicle deployment.  Many of the panellists and presenters obviously had a much better grasp of some of the intricacies of the subject, including Google and Qualcomm representatives amongst others.

You will see from the Arup write-up of the day that the discussions were lively, varied and included the occasional good-natured disagreement as you would expect with such varied perspectives of what the future may hold.

Of one thing I am certain, 'Designing a Driverless World' will be different to how we are designing now.

Monday, 3 March 2014

February 'AV Update' - The Momentum is Building

At CAVCOE we recently posted the February version of our automated vehicles news round-up 'AV Update' onto our website.

As you look through the previous versions of AV Update you can quickly see how there is very significant momentum building, and how this technology is rapidly grabbing the public's imagination. But surely this is what we should expect from a technology that is likely to see money flows in excess of 8% of GDP?....

In this February issue we can see a growing awareness of how AV's might impact on life in our cities. This is something that I feel very strongly about and I have written an article on this subject which is due to be published very shortly.  As soon as it is available then I will discuss it more, but for those of you that have been reading my blog posts you will recognize it as a development of my Automated Vehicle Zones (AVZ) thinking.

Why wouldn't we create the right environment for AVs to provide their full benefits as soon as possible? Why would we wait for the natural decline of human driving when it limits the benefits that we know are there with AVs?

Monday, 27 January 2014

January Issue of AV Update - and why we need to dig beneath the headlines

The latest issue of AV Update is now out for January - please subscribe if you don't want to wait for us to post up on the CAVCOE website.  There is no advertizing or commitment required from subscribers - and it is just as easy to unsubscribe if you no longer wish to receive it.

There is a very clear accelerating growth trend in the number of announcements and articles on the subject of autonomous vehicles (AVs) online.  When I started researching this subject in earnest around September 2011 there was probably one article on the BBC News site every two or three months.  This week it is possible that for a short while that there were three different articles that talked about AVs on the site at the same time.

This month we had two studies released which caught my attention.  The IHS study which I personally didn't think a great deal of, as it was only made available to the press for free (so my comments are limited to the press release), and forecast some market penetration rates for AVs which I found to be very conservative as it seemed that they had been calculated from an automotive industry perspective. When an industry faces potential disruption then it may not be wise to base your calculations on the historical growth in that sector.

The Rand study appeared to be significantly better researched and provided some great background work.  I didn't agree with their treatment of shared vehicle fleets as I think that there are compelling business reasons why they are both inevitable and likely to grow at a rapid rate.

So despite my impression that the Rand report was significantly better, it was the IHS report that got most media exposure.  Now it could be that IHS have a much better media distribution system, or it could be that the media found it easier to latch onto an easy headline, e.g. '9% of Cars to be Driverless by 2035'.

My disdain for the headline writers continued with the CES in Las Vegas.  Induct launched the Navia as the world's first commercially available driverless low-speed electric shuttle at CES,which was the real headline for me.  I was also very impressed that Audi demonstrated on public roads their miniaturized shoe-box sized self-driving technology in a gorgeous looking A7.

But what got the real headlines at CES?  Why, a drifting self-driving BMW of course...

To further 'add insult to my injury' in this matter, the BMW CEO for North America seemed to think that BMW still want to keep the driver involved with the 'ultimate driving machine'.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

CAVCOE and the Latest AV Update

I am very pleased to announce that the latest issue of AV Update is now also available here.

In this issue Barrie Kirk and I announce that we have just launched a new non-profit organization:
The Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE)
which is now the official publisher of AV Update.

If you would like to receive AV Update directly by email, then just hit the 'subscribe' button on the the front page of the new CAVCOE website at:

There is more about CAVCOE and what it is all about on the website if you are interested.  We believe that just about everyone is going to be a stakeholder in some shape or form when Automated Vehicles appear, and we want to help in whatever way we can to maximize the benefits and mitigate the downsides.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Second Edition of 'AV Update'

The latest, and second, edition of Autonomous (or Automated) Vehicle Update is now available here.

Interest in AV's is continuing to increase and for the first time that we are aware of a national leader has pointed towards this technology.

Also it is encouraging that the US House of Representatives had planned to discuss the impact of AV's on surface transportation.  Although postponed, we look forward to tuning in live to this meeting when it is eventually re-scheduled.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

'Countdown to Autonomy'

On page 40 of the October/November 2013 edition of Traffic Technology International, there is an article called 'Countdown to Autonomy' that I put together to help traffic managers understand the potential implications of fully automated vehicles.  

Hopefully this will be of interest to a wider readership as I explain why I think that we should all try and be prepared as we can for the implications that result from this technology. I also point out some of the wider impacts on transportation projects which should be of interest to both transportation professionals and tax-payers.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Why Fully Self-Driving Isn't the Automaker's Goal

A number of automakers have been making statements recently around the subject of automated (autonomous, self-driving, driverless) cars.  The general message seems to be: 'We are going to add safety features to our car that will automate most or all of the driving task, but the driver will always need to be in the loop and of course the pleasure of driving is so great that there will always be times when the driver will just take over.'
For example:
These attitudes in some ways highlight the automakers quandary. They have a tried and tested 130 year old business model of incremental improvements where they seek to sell every single one of us at least one vehicle. They sell speed, power, luxury, connectivity, versatility, safety (except some of the previous sales points are in direct contradiction of safety?...) and even efficiency, as the younger generations are so much more aware of 'green' issues.

Such a business model is great for the shareholders of these automakers - but considering most vehicles stand around idle for 90% of the time, this can be considered a serious waste of the earth's finite resources. Also consider that human error is a factor in some 93% of crashes - we have a terrible conundrum where there is an entire industry, including aftermarket parts, that relies on crashes occurring.

Whereas a truly self-driving, NHTSA Level 4 automated vehicle, one that is capable of driving unmanned, challenges (if not disrupts) this business model. Instead it inevitably leads to the development of automated shared mobility fleets - especially from the business models of taxi, car-rental, car-share, ride-share and P2P companies.

We know from studies that 1 shared vehicle can typically take 9 to 13 private vehicles off the road (Shaheen, UC Berkeley). Studies around the shared automated fleets, or 'aTaxis' suggests that 1 fully automated Level 4 car could take at least 2.5 private vehicles off the road during peak hours (Kornhauser, Princeton) - and maybe more.

With these aTaxis the average person could relinquish ownership of their private vehicle and hire the right size vehicle for their commute to work, family time at the weekend, shifting goods etc. - and save 40% of annual transportation outlay in the process (as extrapolated from 'Transforming personal mobility - Earth Institute, Columbia University).

Therefore with and aTaxis we would find that the automakers sell many more cars to the fleets and less to private owners. Which means that their 130 year old business model no longer looks so robust. Fleet owners will want very different characteristics in their cars and they will be very aggressive on beating down prices.

So comments like the ones automakers make in these articles about 'keeping the driver in the loop' and that 'drivers will always want to drive' etc. don't really stack up when you consider the likely new business models and the societal benefits that Level 4 automated vehicles can bring.

Also note that the 2020 date for this technology from the automakers is not for Level 4 automated technology - but Level 3 (tending towards Level 4), where the driver is required to take over the driving task when necessary - because that preserves their business model - 1 driver, 1 car (or more).

Whereas Google have explicitly stated that their aspiration is to go for Level 4 if they can manage it, which would mean bypassing Level 3 altogether. On the Friday following this presentation by Ron Medford of Google there was a public meeting regarding autonomous vehicles in California.  There I took the chance to ask the panel, about when they thought fully self-driving cars would be available. Anthony Levandowski of Google replied that they stand by Sergey Brin's statement at the California autonomous vehicle bill signing, which was where he intimated that they are aiming for about five years, i.e. 2017.

So when you read what the automakers are saying on the subject of driverless cars, please consider that there is another side to the story and the business models and agendas lie behind much of what is said.

2017 is the date that we should be preparing for. To not do so risks all sorts of avoidable societal and economic collateral damage.