Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Canada

I have written previously to the Prime Minister of Canada on 5 April 2013 urging his government to be aware of the impending arrival of autonomous vehicle technology and advising that the government needs to start planning now and that many ministries and businesses should be included in such planning.  The prompt reply from his office  said that my comments have been carefully considered and that they have taken the liberty to forward my e-mail to the Minister of Transport.

As 5 weeks have now passed and I have heard nothing further from the Prime Minister or the Minster of Transportation then with Barrie Kirk, my associate from Globis Consulting, we have co-signed a letter that Barrie wrote and sent it to both the PM and Cc'ed to the Minister of Transport.

If you too feel strongly about the issue of whether your jurisdiction is taking autonomous vehicles and their impacts seriously then please consider writing something yourself - such communications can sometimes make a difference.  Here is the letter that Barrie sent on our behalf:

Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Canada

Dear Prime Minister,

I am shocked that no Canadian government, federal, provincial, or municipal, is investigating the launch of autonomous vehicles and planning for the huge impacts on our cities, transportation, public transit, government and businesses. Compared to other countries, Canada is a backwater when it comes to planning for the introduction of self-driving cars.  Canada needs some leadership in this area and I urge you to provide that leadership now.

Let me review some of the activities in other countries:

-  The Senate is holding a hearing on the technology and its impacts on May 15, 2013.
-  The Department of Transport has started to investigate the same topics.
-  Laws permitting testing of autonomous vehicles have been passed in Nevada, Florida, California, and Washington D.C.
-  13 other US States have similar bills in process.
-  Bill Ford, the Executive Chairman of Ford, has said "cars will soon drive themselves and ......it will all happen sooner than you might guess.".
-  The Earth Institute of Columbia University has published an important report on the huge impact of autonomous vehicles on public transit.

-  A number of governments have enacted laws related to autonomous vehicles.
-  The Sunday Times reports that the U.K. is about to change the law to to allow testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads.
-  A recent editorial in the The Telegraph said that autonomous vehicles will trigger a burst of economic growth, transform transport around the world, including in Britain, free vast amounts of time, increase productivity, make us a lot wealthier and unleash drastic, unpredictable economic and cultural changes." 
-  A recent newsletter published by Lloyds had an article on driverless cars that ended with the following: "The [insurance] market needs to monitor driverless cars and these new technologies – and their associated risks – as they evolve during the next few years. Completely ignoring this scenario is not a good option."

-  Hitachi has commercially launched a low-speed, single-seat autonomous car for seniors and the handicapped. (Canadian universities and businesses have the skills and resources to have developed this -- why didn't we?)

Car manufacturers
-  GM, Volvo, Nissan, BMW, etc. say their first fully-autonomous cars will be launched in 2020.
-  Google is expected to have its self-driving car technology in the public's hands even sooner.
-  Cadillac has started testing a semi-autonomous car that will be launched even earlier than that.

There are very many benefits, as well as some issues.  Planning for autonomous vehicles will take time and will involve many different federal departments, as well as provincial and municipal governments.    Leadership needs to come from the top, as it has in the US and the UK.  I urge you to provide that leadership and start now the process of planning for the huge impacts on our cities, transportation, public transit, government and businesses.

Yours sincerely
Barrie Kirk, P.Eng.
Paul Godsmark

Friday, 10 May 2013

Who Will Champion the Cause of Autonomous Vehicles?

I have just returned this week from presenting at the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) where the subject of autonomous vehicles was mentioned by each of the speakers in the opening session.  Following my presentation it then came up for discussion under the general heading of emerging issues in the three main committees.  Autonomous vehicles were probably 'the' hot topic of the Annual Meeting.

There was considerable interest in my presentation and a huge variation in familiarity with the technology and the implications by the attendees.  Hopefully by attending I have helped some to improve their understanding of autonomous vehicles and challenged some others on just how broad the implications could be on surface transportation and society as a whole.

My CCMTA presentation can be downloaded here.

The only reason that I could make it to the incredible city of Iqaluit, Nunavut, which has no roads to it and is the closest that I have ever been to the arctic circle, is through the very generous sponsorship from CCMTA for the speakers.  There are a number of conferences and annual meetings that I would really like to attend and speak at this year, but resources are simply not available.  Yet surely this subject, which has the potential to have the biggest impact on society since the internet, should command much greater attention and have funds flowing into it already?

So, my question is, applicable in every jurisdiction: 
"Who will champion the cause of autonomous vehicles?"

The CCMTA are possibly now the most aware organization with national influence in Canada, and they have a vital role in bringing order to the way that vehicles are licensed and used on the roads and how the roads operate safely and efficiently.  But, and this is the 'but', the implications of the autonomous vehicle when they are certified safe to drive unmanned go way beyond our road networks.  They will impact on almost every aspect of daily life and affect almost every government ministry and department and impact on so many businesses.

My hope is that the CCMTA will recognize that this subject, although it falls firmly within their remit of license and regulation, is also potentially 'above their pay-grade' and therefore pass their observations up through the chain of command to the Minister of Transportation and hopefully the Prime Minister.

I do not see how we can begin to address the massive societal change that unmanned autonomous vehicle capability will bring unless we use joined-up-thinking and involve decision-makers representing the key stakeholders in government, business and society.

To that end it is very encouraging that the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation is holding a hearing on 15 May titled: "The Road Ahead: Advanced Vehicle Technology and its Implications".

But even now we are making decisions on major public transportation projects and committing funds for projects that will take decades to pay for, with no cognisance of the impacts of autonomous vehicles in possibly as little as five years time.

We simply cannot act soon enough if we want to make best use of public funds and tax-payers interests in my opinion.  So, who will champion the cause of autonomous vehicles and ensure that our limited resources are used as wisely as possible?

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Autonomous Vehicles: An Inconvenient Truth

Just to let you know that I will be presenting on the subject of "Autonomous Vehicles: An Inconvenient Truth" on a free webinar, hosted by Globis Consulting on Wed May 22 at 11:00am EDT.

Registration for the webinar is here.

My presentation will briefly outline the basics of autonomous vehicle technology, what the paradigm shift will be, and how I see autonomous vehicles  being deployed as a result of the likely money flows and business cases. 
This will serve as useful background knowledge to then help you understand the 'Inconvenient Truth' that I refer to in the title.  This relates to a number of issues which you may already be aware of, if you have been following the development of this technology closely. If we only look at these issues from the perspective of the existing paradigm then they are robust 'positions' that have stood the test of time.  However, I trust that you will agree that the forecast from many voices is now that change is definitely on the way and that it is no longer 'business as usual'.

When we look from the perspective of the new paradigm, then it becomes clear that the positions taken by these organizations will be impacted, if not disrupted. It is therefore my opinion that these issues need to be openly discussed so that we can all gain a better understanding of what may happen in the future and how we can best prepare for it. 

There is still plenty of time to act, if that is considered necessary.  But given how long it can sometimes take government and businesses to understand and act on an issue, then we hope that at the very least this presentation will raise awareness and provide decision-makers with some 'food for thought'.

If we don't discuss and tease out where we stand with these issues, then there is the risk that we could waste billions in public spending and that many company business models could disrupt and cause them to go bust.