Autonomous Vehicle Workshop – Key Takeaways – Dr. Kara Kockelman

I’m Kara Kockelman, a professor of
Transportation Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. My students and I do a lot of research
into travel behavior analysis as well as land use forecasting, so we try to
predict the future of urban systems: What kinds of vehicle’s people will be owning,
where they’ll be living, where the businesses they’ll be visiting are,
and at what times of day they’ll be traveling, how they’ll be traveling in order to predict
emissions, land use patterns, how different policies in the urban context
might affect those behaviors in the future of our communities. Recently I had the opportunity to you
visit Stanford University for four days for a TRB sponsored workshop on road vehicle automation and it was
really centered on autonomous vehicles and the different levels of autonomy or
automation that we’ll be introducing into the vehicle fleet over the coming year.
The points that I thought were most unusual to have heard
of are about getting the driver to take control over the vehicle in the event that
there’s a failure or the situation is so complex that the
driver is needed. So, there are different levels
of automation and many people expect a gradual evolution.
Right now the Mercedes S-class, for example, during low-speed congestion will
take over for you if you want, and many people have
vehicles that will self park already. So there is automation. There is electronic
stability control now required on vehicles, but level 4 automation is really hands free, the driver can be
asleep. But what if at level 3 or potentially level 4 the driver is needed,
how quickly can that driver regain control? So, situational awareness is a
big concern for a lot of people. How to keep the driver still awake
and alert enough to quickly help out in a situation that requires more
thought and judgment? Because a lot of times there’s only two
bad alternatives and somebody needs to make the decision. The other issue is who’s at fault? So
insurance companies and auto manufacturers are very worried that
they’ll be responsible because the driver had
handed over the reins essentially to the vehicle, this product that they had
purchased that should be delivering safety. And so how do you
weave in the insurance issues even though crashes are likely to fall by, you know,
potentially an order of magnitude–so ninety percent or so would be terrific, but it’ll be different
people maybe getting hit now rather than the same old people that were
getting hit. So new class of victims and deep pockets on the manufacturer’s side.
That brings us to a third point, which is how will these vehicles be owned? Right now
once you purchase a product you have control over it. You don’t have
to do software updates if you don’t want to if something’s being recalled right now. So
to protect the manufacturer and their insurance company, they would be forcing updates on the owners who would no longer be owners. So these
would become a service and a leased vehicle. And they might be shared or
they might be sitting in your driveway at night and essentially owned for a duration but you would have to
do the updates that the manufacturer requires. And this brings us to another point
which is standardization. So these vehicles are reasonably complex just like, you know
VCR’s differ the vehicles will differ. How can we ensure that a driver can get into any vehicle (and maybe I shouldn’t say
driver anymore it’s really a traveler, right? Hands off potentially) so, they can
get into any vehicle and know how to operate it
basically as needed to at least get it started,
directed, and potentially making decisions along
the way.