Analog Garage, ADI’s technology incubator, recently hosted a panel discussion to discuss the current state – and future – of autonomous transportation. Relying on their firsthand experiences working with vehicle autonomy, four panelists discussed topics ranging from regulatory hurdles to safety and education concerns that must be addressed before self-driving vehicles properly hit the road.

 Click the Image to View an Excerpt from the Event.

Moderated by Gabi Zijderveld, chief marketing officer of emotion measurement technology company Affectiva, the panel featured the insights of Chris Jacobs, vice president of Autonomous Transportation and Automotive Safety at Analog Devices; Eryk Nice, vice president of autonomous systems at nuTonomy, a division of Aptiv’s Automated Mobility Group; Anita Kim, a technology policy analyst with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center; and Sanjay Aggarwal, venture partner of F-Prime Capital.

The panel’s mission was to answer the following question: since we’re not at the point of taking fully autonomous vehicles home or to work, what is required to reach this milestone? As discussed, it starts with acknowledging and addressing the following factors:

Just as autonomous vehicles evolve, so too must the technology that helps them see – and react to – their surroundings.

As we explore the autonomous vehicle landscape, there is a lot of foundational technology already in use today, according to ADI’s Chris Jacobs. For example, cameras are widely dispersed throughout the vehicle body, and radar is being deployed for automatic emergency braking. But panelists emphasized this is still a long way from reaching the higher levels that will represent complete vehicle autonomy.

To evolve from a car that warns the driver to one that intervenes to guarantee occupant safety, for example, Chris noted that the industry must do more from a performance perspective to ensure false positives aren’t triggered by systems like blind spot detectors in rearview or sideview mirrors.

Eryk Nice of nuTonomoy said that even though parent company Aptiv has made “a ton of progress” advancing vehicle safety issues central to full autonomy (Levels 4 and 5), the technology still requires a “massive amount” of problem solving. Based on her experience, Anita Kim of the Department of Transportation added that full autonomy will be dictated by the types of environments and infrastructures that vehicles are trained to drive in. Using an example of a traffic cop providing hand signals to human drivers at an intersection, she asked attendees to consider how autonomous vehicles might interpret those signals.

As Chris further related, there is one vehicle-related fatality in the U.S. for nearly every 100 million miles driven. Currently, autonomous vehicles – either in simulation or on the road – have not come close to approaching that number. “That’s how we know which areas of vehicle autonomy can be immediately addressed, and which are ones we don’t fully understand until we start getting these vehicles out on the road,” he said. “Boston has different conditions than Las Vegas, for example. Yet if driverless cars can gain viability in Boston – i.e. by driving in more difficult road environments – it will go a long way towards demonstrating the maturity of the technology.”

Pictured left to right are panelists Anita Kim, technology policy analyst with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center; Eryk Nice, VP of autonomous systems at nuTonomy, Sanjay Aggarwal, venture partner of F-Prime Capital; Chris Jacobs, VP of Autonomous Transportation and Automotive Safety at Analog Devices; and moderator Gabi Zijderveld, CMO of emotion measurement technology company Affectiva

Trust must be top-of-mind before autonomous vehicles fully win over consumers.

Given the relevance of consumer trust – or lack thereof – surrounding autonomous vehicles, Sanjay said it would be a greater likelihood we “inch into use cases” rather than go full throttle. Citing Optimus Ride and its private college campus use cases, Sanjay added that all it will take is one accident to “really reverberate quite deeply into the way people think about (autonomous vehicles).” By inching into use cases, consumer trust is enhanced and the right perception around driverless cars grows.

Determining the right way to regulate autonomous vehicles is another core piece of the puzzle, according to Eryk, who added that Aptiv is partnering closely with the City of Boston to help deploy safe driverless cars. By providing quarterly reports to Boston officials about their operation and developments, Aptiv has helped officials better understand the technology and determine how best to regulate it, which has fostered trust between the parties.

Anita noted that, even though Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards were established to regulate cars at the national level, they only take human drivers into account. Now, companies are asking how innovative new vehicle concepts will be covered under federal law once the carmaker removes the steering wheel, driver seat, or brake pedal. The challenge, she said, is how new vehicle designs will “mesh” with existing standards, adding that the Department of Transportation has released several guideline documents to help open a dialogue with the automotive industry.

Chris discussed how the performance of cars already meeting some basic level of autonomy (Levels 1 and 2) continues to vary widely, which for consumers can raise issues of trust. “If we get into one car and it operates in a specific way and then actuates in another way, and then we use another car with those features and it operates differently, how will that be comprehended?” he asked. If there are ways to standardize safety systems across different vehicles from different manufacturers, then the technology can be delivered to the market more consistently – and broadly. Today, however, there is a lack of uniformity in terms of how automakers are developing and deploying safety systems, which is an area the industry must bring to maturity.

Design is another area where trust must be fostered, Chris said. OEMs, when building vehicles for the mass market, strive for the most appealing industrial design possible. This means embedding sensors within the car so they’re hidden from the user all while maintaining the original aesthetic. In the initial deployments of autonomous vehicles, having sensors that are not embedded in the car’s industrial design will speed consumer acceptance given the vehicle will have an outward display of the multiplicity of environmental perception and navigation sensors. Eryk added that a core element of Aptiv’s mission is to let consumers touch, feel, and experience autonomous vehicles firsthand. Once inside, initial fears tend to dissipate.

Autonomous vehicle success will be achieved through public education.

Anita said that driverless cars are still subject to misinformation and hype concerning what the technology can do, what it is not able to handle, and when autonomous cars will arrive in the market. That’s why education is tremendously important from a safety and planning perspective. As the Department of Transportation talks to state and local transportation departments to help them plan for the roadway infrastructure of the future, elected officials also need to think about what this means for their respective communities in terms of how we move and where we live and work, she said.

Don’t underestimate how autonomous vehicles will co-exist with more traditional forms of transportation.

Though all four panelists said they were encouraged by the progress the autonomous vehicle industry has made to date, there is one other area to consider – how self-driving cars will co-exist with more traditional means of ground transportation.

As someone who takes different modes of transportation to work, Eryk said it’s obvious driverless cars will fundamentally transform the way we all get around. He added that the ability of autonomous vehicles to streamline transportation so people can get to where they want to go in a low-cost manner is fundamental to the way communities and businesses work. Simply put, there is excitement about how the concept of autonomous vehicles will complement other modes of transportation yet if the streets are shut down to everyone but these cars, it will prove an uninspiring experience.

Sanjay said given the service-driven nature of autonomous vehicles, it will be interesting to see in the future what kinds of new businesses spring from services coming to consumers versus consumers having to see services. He added driverless cars have the potential to influence where consumers live as they would have the option to work in cars versus focusing on driving. 

We also need to consider what will happen if there isn’t enough “crosstalk” between industry, government, and communities about the technology that helps driverless cars thrive, Anita said to conclude the event. The more knowledge sharing that exists, the more we can collectively shift from “a scary future to a place of true sea change in transportation.”

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