Karlyn Stanley, RAND Corporation senior researcher, who will discuss the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for autonomous and automated vehicles and the legal, regulatory, and policy frameworks responsible for their oversight and governance.
Bryant Walker Smith, University of South Carolina law professor, who will address the legal, ethical, and policy issues surrounding automated driving.
A panel discussion led by Senator Scott Dibble, Santa Clara University law professor Dorothy Glancy, and University of Minnesota professor David Levinson. The panel will explore the impacts and implications of autonomous vehicles for society.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who will close the conference by addressing opportunities and visions for Minnesota.
Breakout sessions exploring industry and design perspectives, civil liability and insurance, criminal liability, regional and city planning perspectives, and ethics, equity, and access.
For a detailed event program and speaker information, please visit the event website.
With frequent press attention on traffic congestion and “gridlock,” it may be surprising that work trip travel times in US cities are better than those of high income competitors in other nations …. Indeed, the University of Minnesota’s David Levinson, found that the typical employee can reach two-thirds of jobs in major US metropolitan areas within 30 minutes.
Census Bureau data indicates that the average work trip travel time in US cities of more than 5 million population was approximately 29 minutes each way. Western European cities of more than 5 million population have an average travel time of 32 minutes. Toronto, Canada’s only city of this size, has a travel time of 33 minutes. East Asian cities with more than 5 million residents (Tokyo, Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto, Nagoya, Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore) have far longer average travel times — at 42 minutes. Australia’s two largest cities (Sydney and Melbourne), which are yet to reach 5 million, have an average travel times of 35 minutes.
Time is important, of course. What you can do with that time (the quality of the experience) also matters. If you can work while traveling, the value of saving time is less than if you must focus on the driving task. This is one reason why autonomous vehicles may be such a game-changer. It may also explain in part the premium people are willing to pay for high quality transit and intercity rail service.
Google has been secretly working on a car. We knew that they were working on autonomous vehicles, but they have also been redesigning the car for an autonomous world and came up with a pod car. The design will be familiar with those who have been following Personal Rapid Transit, though an important difference is that it is in principle trackless (or rather the entire road network has been sufficiently mapped in detail so the whole world is track, rather than bespoke track).
The promotional video is below:
The newest vehicle is designed for slow speed (25 MPH) on campuses, and is especially light. The low mass is important as it saves energy but also causes less damage when it accidentally hits something or someone. Combining the low mass with the lower likelihood of a crash at low speed will magnify its safety advantage for non-occupants in this environment compared with faster heavier vehicles (which privilege the safety of the vehicle occupants).
While I had been assuming the first market for autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles would be the relatively controlled environment of the freeway, the relatively controlled environment of low-speed places makes sense as well. These are two different types of vehicles (high speed freeway vs. low speed neighborhood), and though they may converge, there is no guarantee they will, and perhaps today’s converged multi-purpose vehicle will instead diverge.
There has long been discussion of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, ranging from golf carts to something larger, which are in use in some communities, particularly southwestern US retirement complexes. In Sun City, Arizona, for instance, people use the golf cart not just for golfing, but for going to the clubhouse or local stores.
They can do this because local streets are set with low speed limits, and there are special paths where they are not.
How many places already fit this bill:
Neighborhoods in master planned communities
Note that many of these places have gotten a bad rap from the current flavor of urban planning which decries non-gridded networks. However keep in mind that non-grids have the advantage of discourage through traffic. Perhaps roads are too wide or too fast in these places, but that is much easier to fix through traffic calming than a too connected network.
We will not only be able to deal with such ideal places. We will also need to do retrofits.
How many places could fit this bill:
Cities designed before the automobile, where the grid can be retrofitted to disallow high-speed traffic
Anywhere there is space to retrofit a slow network in parallel with the existing fast network
So will people buy such cars with limited speed? Many will as a second or third vehicle, as they already do with golf carts. The arguments are very similar to those about electric vehicles.
The opportunity arises with Cloud Commuting, when such cars, as they are autonomous, come to you. They will be dispatched when they are practical for the trip at hand, which may either be a short distance within a `slow space place’, or can travel along a `slow path’ between nearby places.
This slow path is of course faster than bike paths and sidewalks, but slower than Principal Arterials and freeways.
Retrofitting cities for transportation has a long history, cities and transportation co-evolve. We redesigned our cities, which had originally emerged with human and animal powered transportation, first for streetcars, and then for the automobile, and in some larger cities for subways. We have also redesigned our taller buildings for escalators and elevators.
We have already differentiated speed on links, and setting speed limits is one of the key jobs of the traffic engineer in ensuring safety. This is not only on the link in question, but important for other links as well. Travelers shifted away from freeways and onto less safe rural roads when the speed limit was set to 55 MPH in the 1970s, and back when it was raised in the 1980s, improving overall safety, though not necessarily safety on the freeways themselves (See Lave and Elias 1994).
As part of an expansive budget bill signed into law last week, state lawmakers nudged transportation officials to boost the speed limit to 60 miles per hour on lane miles where it can “reasonably and safely” be done. By 2019, traffic engineers must examine every mile of road with a 55 mph limit and determine if it is prudent to go higher.
It’s an enormous undertaking. There are 6,771 miles on two-lane/two-way state highways now covered by a 55 mph limit. Officials figure they’ll get through about one-fifth per year, starting as soon as next month. They will analyze each stretch’s crash history, design, lane width, sight lines and ditch slope.
“The fact we’re studying the roads does not mean you can jump to the conclusion that all roads will be raised to 60 miles per hour,” said Peter Buchen, assistant state traffic engineer at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
But the agency has been moving in that direction. In 2005, the department bumped the limit to 60 mph on 791 miles of two-lane highways and added another 750 miles last year. Buchen said those were prime candidates — straight, wide-open stretches with clear sight lines and low incidence of crashes. He said limits on hillier, curvier highways probably won’t budge.
So I will posit several Axioms about transportation
Axiom 1: Some roads should be fast – The aim of transportation is connecting people with destinations. They can connect with more destinations if they can do so in less time. Ceteris paribus, faster roads will take less time.
Axiom 2: Some roads should be slow – Some roads serve neighborhoods and have traffic that is not just motor vehicles. Ceteris paribus, slower roads are more likely to ensure safety, a high quality of life, and increased interaction within the neighborhood. Without loss of generality, let’s call these roads streets.
Axiom 3: Fast roads attract traffic from slow roads – In general, people prefer to spend less time traveling, and will spend less time on faster roads. These roads will attract more people. There will be net reductions in traffic on streets that are made slower and net increases in traffic on roads that are made faster.
We thus should redesign our road hierarchy with these axioms and the possibility of slow vehicles becoming mainstream, developing a slow network so that these neighborhood vehicles cannot not only travel within neighborhoods or on campuses, but between them.
One of the classic questions in Artificial Intelligence is when will a computer beat a master human in some game (Chess, Jeopardy). Well, the next test is not a simple board game, but something involving control of a physical device at high speeds. So the next test is when will a self-driving autonomous vehicle without a human in the drivers seat (at all or via remote control) beat the humans in a NASCAR, Indy, or Formula One car race?
My best guess is 2025, though I am fairly confident before 2029 (the bicentennial of the Rainhill Trials and a year before the bicentennial of the Tom Thumb on the B&O), but this is without a lot of basis. We don’t have enough data points of cars vs. humans in a race. The automakers are not going to be too keen on this, since it sends the wrong message perhaps, and their is a great deal of risk, so it will be after robo-cars are already somewhat widely deployed.
Obviously if you took the safeties off, and didn’t worry about crashing, a robo-car could drive faster than humans now on an empty track. But with other drivers, this would affect the computer, how would/should it respond?
“Skeptics have also charged that autonomous cars will disrupt any city-based travel models, since people freed from the need to drive will move even farther away from the core. That might be true for people who own their autonomous cars, says University of Minnesota transport scholar David Levinson, but a strong sharing system could promote the opposite movement. “If you’re paying for the car by the minute, then you’re not going to want to move farther out,” says Levinson. “You’re going to want to move closer in.”
Levinson says SAV service that offers convenient on-demand trips gives people a much greater incentive to rely on that system — and a much smaller incentive to take the unnecessary trips often made by private cars. It’s a recipe for the type of multi-modal lifestyle change only possible right now in places like Manhattan. Transit for essential daily trips, cabs (or other alternatives based on the type of trip) for the rest.”
The big market question is when this world will begin to emerge. Levinson subscribes to a timeline in which autonomous cars enter the luxury market in 2020, the technology trickles down into the affordable mid-level range over the next several years, and by 2030 every [edit: NEW] car on the road is driverless. (Other cars would be banned a decade later.) Since car- and ride-sharing operations tend to rely on smaller cars, that would peg SAV networks closer to 2030 — about 16 years from now.
“It’s not that far away anymore,” says Levinson. “But 16 years ago was 1998, and Google hadn’t been invented. So it’s a short time and it’s a long time.”
But, more quietly, both auto manufacturers and government entities are also jumping on the bandwagon.
Automakers are already equipping cars with sensors that know, for example, when you’re about to plow into the car in front of you and can brake accordingly. David Levinson, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota who writes the Transportationist blog, believes partially automated cars could be hitting the market by the end of the decade.
“My guess is that there will be some stuff on the market by 2020 that will be automated in that you could probably do hands-off driving on freeways in specific situations,” he says.
However, he quickly cautions, that prediction comes with a number of caveats. Automakers are concerned about liability – after all, who’s at fault if an automated car gets in an accident? There’s also the matter of equipping roadways and signage with helpful technology, something car manufacturers don’t expect in the short term. (Let’s face it: It’s hard enough to get potholes fixed.)
Finally, self-driving cars will likely take a generation to reach critical mass, says Levinson. Just as electrics and hybrids are only now becoming part of the everyday fleet, expect the number of automated vehicles to grow slowly in their early years, while people get rid of their previous vehicles.
Nevertheless, they could provide a huge benefit to society. Delivery services such as FedEx and UPS could automate their vehicles. Urban dwellers, who already use services such as Uber and Zipcar, would have more options to get around. And self-driving cars would be safer, thanks to the kinds of sensors that are becoming widespread today, such as auto-braking and blind-spot recognition.
Of course, such advances take both political and financial will. Technology already exists to automate aspects of rail; systems in Europe and Asia (such as Japan’s bullet trains) are run by machine. Congress even passed a 2008 law pushing for the installation of positive train control (PTC), a technology that helps recognize dangerous conditions, but U.S. systems have been slow to implement it.
“We should be doing more automation,” says Levinson. “It’s a lot easier to automate rail systems that it is to automate cars and highways.”
But, gradually, we’re getting there, he says. Throw in other innovations – 3-D printing, which could eliminate the need to have certain items shipped; telecommuting, which is already creating “virtual offices”; and alternate energy sources, which may reduce dependency on fossil fuels – and 20th-century transportation styles may finally end up in the rear-view mirror.
“Volvo today announced its new project ‘Drive Me’, which aims to bring 100 autonomous cars to Sweden’s roads, something that has been endorsed by the Swedish government. Under the project, Volvo and other authorities will ‘pinpoint the societal benefits’ of self-driving cars, as well as seeing them in use on average public roads in ordinary everyday driving conditions. The project will take place in the city of Gothenburg.”