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The Steering Wheel with Free Will

The Steering Wheel with Free Will Traditional cars versus autonomous vehicles

The advent of AVs on the busy roadways of the world’s nations represents a sea change in the way human transportation is conceived and enacted. We are now witnessing an epoch of significant transition in which active control of the vehicle is being taken from the human driver and placed within the charge of the on-board computer systems themselves.”Hancock P.A. 1997. Essays on the Future of Human-Machine Systems. Eden Prairie, MN: Banta Information Services Group. 

Autonomous vehicles are defined by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as “vehicles whose operation takes place without the need for direct driver action to maintain control over steering, acceleration and braking systems”.

Increasingly, semiautonomous vehicles participate in public traffic and are scheduled to be marketed to the general public from 2020 onwards.

Over the next 20 years, autonomous cars will become mainstream, the culmination of decades of research and development by a large number of companies around the world which have joined efforts to achieve this purpose.

Conceptually, autonomous vehicles are described as disruptive technologies. AV systems can significantly change the living environment and working population.

Even if major players in the industry have already developed and tested many of the technology blocks, it has been estimated that it will take up to two decades to mainstream a completely autonomous vehicle (AV) as there are still difficult legal challenges with regards to liability in case of accidents, the place where they are allowed to operate and how transport licenses would work. New guidelines on fully autonomous driving should be refined alongside the development of the necessary infrastructure. Important players, companies like Google, Apple and Uber, want to integrate mobility with the technology that enables a connected lifestyle. 

Key issues 

Beyond technological capabilities, there are some key challenges to introducing driverless vehicles, such as regulatory pressures, public acceptance and civil liability. Public opinion exerts a significant impact on the process, especially if there are negative perceptions of autonomous vehicles, and there must be greater clarity about the problems arising from possible implications in road accidents.

Conceptually, autonomous vehicles are described as disruptive technologies (Manyika et al. 2013) in the vein of the introduction of internal combustion engine vehicles in the beginning of the 20th century. AV systems can significantly change the living environment and working population (Anderson et al. 2014). The greatest disruption potential is associated with the highest level of implementation, which involves driving the vehicle without any human interaction.

Before we ask about the large-scale deployment of autonomous cars, we must admit that there are a number of questions that have only partially found answers. For example:

  • Can autonomous vehicles overcome the scepticism of the population about giving up control of the vehicle while traveling?
  • How will autonomous transport be regulated and how will legal details be dealt with regarding the determination of liability in the event of accidents?
  • How will new business models from the implementation of autonomous transport look like?
  • Who will be the big winners of the huge market generated by widespread implementation of AV?

From a logistical point of view, there are three modalities in which autonomous vehicles can be introduced into consumption for the general public:

  • The implementation of the autonomous technology in the public transport of passengers (e.g., trains, buses, subways, etc.);
  • Encouraging the development of autonomous fleets at the level of private companies (depending on the specifics of the activity, there are domains with the preference of logistics, such as courier companies, freight or transport of people);
  • The purchase of cars fitted with autonomous systems by private individuals who act as early adopters (for example, lane-keeping systems, cruise control, parking assistance, automatic deceleration braking and warning systems dead angle and collision points (Mawson and Walley 2014).

Regarding this last stage, most drivers have already enjoyed the first autonomous driving technology wave with features such as navigation systems, car entertainment systems, on-board technical assistance, traffic alert systems and parking sensors.                               

AV characteristics 

Autonomous transport implementation is now in development and will be completed around 2035, together with the endpoint for the 5th stage of development, requiring no human input (see Figure 1).

There is a general agreement on the definition of different levels of autonomy for cars, numbered from 0 to 5, although different sources have slightly different specifications for them. The SAE (Automobile Engineers Society) defines these levels as follows:

  • Level 0: The automated system has no control over the vehicle but can issue warnings;
  • Level 1: The driver must be ready to take control at any time. The automatic system can include features such as: adaptive cruise control (ACC), automatic parking assist and type II lane keeping assist (LKA) in any combination;
  • Level 2: The driver is required to detect objects and events and to respond if the automated system fails to intervene properly. The automatic system executes acceleration, braking and direction. It can be disabled immediately after taking control by the driver;
  • Level 3: In well-known, limited (such as motorways) environments, the driver can safely turn his attention away from driving tasks, but he must be ready to take control when necessary;
  • Level 4: The automated system can control the vehicle only in some environments like bad weather. The driver should activate the automatic system only when he is secure. When the system is activated, the driver’s attention is not necessary anymore;
  • Level 5: Except for establishing the destination and starting the system, human intervention is not required. The automated system can drive to any location where it is legal to drive and make its own decision. 

Figure 1. Autonomous driving technology will advance in waves

Source: Romer, Weiss and Gaenzle (2016).

Both advantages and disadvantages are expected to occur with the implementation of autonomous cars. Major potential benefits include:

  • A substantial reduction of deaths and injuries caused by road accidents;
  • Increased safety for pedestrians and cyclists, significant reduction of emissions;
  • Improved mobility of the elderly and disabled and the release of parking spaces.

The maintenance costs of autonomous vehicles are estimated to decrease in the future by about 35% due to the decrease in wear and the utilization of alternative fuel sources. Initially, high costs were estimated for the implementation of these combustion sources, but the degree of amortization is high due to the increased use of the vehicle by reducing the standstill time (Fagnant and Kockelman 2015; Pettigrew 2017; Milakis, Van Arem and Van Wee 2017). Potential disadvantages include increased traffic congestion, concerns about privacy, security, insurance and liability, and job losses (Bansal and Kockelman 2018).  

Overcoming bias 

Most drivers have already enjoyed the first autonomous driving technology wave with features such as navigation systems, car entertainment systems, on-board technical assistance, traffic alert systems and parking sensors.

Regarding the answer to the question: How will autonomous transport be regulated and how will legal details be dealt with regarding the determination of liability in the event of accidents?, at this moment we can state that the regulation and approval of the public road operation of the autonomous motor vehicles is currently limited by the law. According to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, ratified by more than 70 countries, the prerequisite for driving rules is that there must be a driver who can control a moving vehicle at any time. In May 2014, a United Nations committee of experts added a new rule to this convention, which stipulates that “systems that drive autonomously a car are only allowed if they can be stopped by the driver at any time”. An increasing number of countries are now reviewing national legislation to allow autonomous logistical operations. Among policy reviewers are countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. In conclusion, the existing legislation is probably insufficient to meet the needs of time and to take advantage of the safety benefits of automation technology.

Regarding the first dilemma from which we started in this article about overcoming the scepticism of the population about the willingness to cede control over the car during the period of travel, we must make it clear from the beginning that there are two theories to be considered when it comes to consumers and the assimilation of new technologies. On the one hand, it is about adopting them and, on the other hand, accepting them.

Acceptance is the process where non-consumers tolerate the existence of a technology.There is now much debate as to whether automation will lead to a large-scale “no-job” future (Ford 2015) or whether there is an eventuality of a possible future with low unemployment by creating new jobs that do not exist at present (Mindell 2015).

Certainly, autonomous vehicles will influence job markets, and areas such as taxi transport will be targeted and there will be disadvantaged categories from the implementation of these technologies like drivers for trucks, buses, tramlines, trolleybuses, etc, which are an important source of employment.

Driving is an important source of income for those with a lower level of education, with studies showing that men will be particularly affected.

Taking into account the major implications on the population, it is possible that its acceptance will be slow and will generate a series of social actions. Such effects among the population are also visible today through the numerous boycott actions of Uber.

In the light of labour market disturbances that may accompany a rapid transition to the widespread use of fully autonomous vehicles, decision makers should give priority to solutions that compensate for job losses. The policies that meet this criterion include: the implementation of unemployment insurance and self-help relocation services automatically applied to eligible workers and the increase in professional qualification and reconversion (Algernon et al. 2017).

Acceptance is also based on the numerous information campaigns carried out in the media through specialized channels, which insist on the positive effects of the introduction of autonomous cars. For example, companies such as Google, Tesla and Uber, who are not part of the traditional automotive industry, view this technology as a stepping stone for new and profitable markets and are proselytising the benefits of autonomous cars.  

Fostering adoption 

Regarding the adoption of autonomous transport, we can say that we are in full swing. Consumer use of peer-to-peer services such as those provided by Uber or Lyft indicates a change in mentality between generations. This behaviour is coupled with increasing urbanization, rapid technological leaps, and the development of new data storage systems that have accelerated the implementation of new business models.

According to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, ratified by more than 70 countries, the prerequisite for driving rules is that there must be a driver who can control a moving vehicle at any time. In May 2014, a United Nations committee of experts added a new rule to this convention, which stipulates that “systems that drive autonomously a car are only allowed if they can be stopped by the driver at any time”.

Another contributing factor of acceptance are the changes in the consumption habits of the population. They are willing to allocate more financial resources to meet international travel needs, have more time flexibility, and home, personal space has a lower relevance in the motivational hierarchy. There are certain assumptions that support the hypothesis regarding the rapid adoption of autonomous transport among the general public. They meet consumers’ desire to have better and more efficient technologies that will act as traffic optimizers and allow for integrated user transport. For individuals, cars tend to become a third personal space between the office and the home.

However, the development of autonomous vehicles and their implementation will raise ethical issues for corporations as well as for governments and international bodies involved.

If we ask ourselves: Who will be the big winners of the huge market generated by the product, the marketing and the use of autonomous vehicles?, we have to consider the infrastructure needed to implement the system. First of all, we must keep in mind that for any virtual intelligence, one of the most important components of the journey is not just what it sees, but what it knows about the area in advance. The robot needs a map and these machines use a three-dimensional representation of the environment, which requires a continuous update process, keeping it faithful to reality.

In recent years, investments in research into autonomous vehicles have reached record levels and, with them, increased funding to improve mapping. Alphabet Inc., which owns Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Street View, and the Waze navigation application that tracks real-time traffic, is an active player on the market. Start-ups – civil maps such as DeepMap and Lvl5 – have attracted mapping engineers from companies like Google, Apple and Tesla and have mobilized more than $40 million. At the same time, the large autonomous vehicle manufacturers have developed their own mapping systems.

There has already been substantial industry cooperation on mapping tools, primarily through HERE Technologies, jointly owned by German car manufacturers (BMW, Daimler and Audi) since 2015. HERE captures location content such as road networks, buildings, parks and traffic patterns. It then sells or licenses that mapping content, along with navigation services and location solutions to other businesses such as Alpine, Garmin BMW, Oracle and Amazon.com. Another German rival, Volkswagen, is heading for a variety of arrangements, including autonomous driving partnerships with Ford and Aurora.

However, all German companies have remained behind the main player in the field of technology development for autonomous transport. While German car producers are still planning real-world tests, Alphabet Inc.-owned Waymo LLC has already carried out millions of experimental miles of self-driving and even launched a taxi service without a driver in Phoenix, Arizona. On December 5, 2018, it launched a commercial self-driving car service called “Waymo One”; users in the Phoenix metropolitan area use an app to request a pick-up. 

Figure 2. Companies will join forces to create powerful ecosystems

Source: Romer, Weiss and Gaenzle (2016).

Connectivity is key 

Fully automatic driving means that drivers and passengers can relax during their entire journey as the car finds the best way to reach the destination, including car park.

In the light of labour market disturbances that may accompany a rapid transition to the widespread use of fully autonomous vehicles, decision makers should give priority to solutions that compensate for job losses.

All this involves a strong interconnection that requires an infrastructure different from that present on roads and in cities. Fortunately, most of this new infrastructure can overlap or use existing roadways and communications systems rather than replace them. The first step is to ensure the existence of networks, protocols and standards for real-time interconnection between cars and other entities. The second step is to install platforms for automated traffic control on highways and in urban areas to enable autonomous driving.

In any case, the different regulatory regimes existing worldwide suggest that the mosaic generated by the collaboration between the various manufacturers involved throughout the implementation of the autonomous logistics will continue in the future. There are other reasons why the logic of cooperation is so strong: safety must be standardized throughout the industry, and all cars will have to communicate in an easy-to-understand language.

In the figure below, we can identify the evolution of the relationship between the traditional companies producing motor vehicles and the development of related services for autonomous transport.              

Figure 3. The evolution of connected services

Source: Romer, Weiss and Gaenzle (2016). 

Ford Company has invested about $1 billion in Argo AI, the robotic company created by former Google and Uber leaders. The American giant intends to combine Argo AI’s expertise with existing efforts to create a “fully autonomous vehicle” that will be launched on the market in 2021 (Walker 2019).

Another famous example is the French-Japanese alliance, Renault-Nissan, which relies on its new partner, Microsoft, to support its efforts to develop autonomous transport. They intend to launch 10 different cars by the end of 2020.

Toyota was one of the most sceptical automobile companies with regard to autonomous vehicles, but in 2015 it made a substantial investment to catch up with the competition. Toyota has invested a billion dollars over five years at its own research institute to develop robotic technology and artificial intelligence. The goal is to launch a new prototype of the car equipped with artificial intelligence in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

Another question we would like to answer is: How will the new business models generated by the implementation of autonomous transport look like?

The next quantum leap in transport is the development of services and products for connected mobility. It combines the movement of people, goods and information into a consumer-friendly solution built on technologies, services and interested parties.

The Passenger Economy is the economic and societal value that will be generated by fully autonomous (SAE Level five) pilotless vehicles.

Strategy Analytics expects these megatrends, with the implementation of fully autonomous cars of level five, to continue and allow mobility as a service, to open the door to a new emerging market that we call the “Passenger Economy”.

This represents the value of products and services derived from the use of fully autonomous and unmanned vehicles, including indirect savings both over time and in resources generated by their use. As can be seen in the chart below, it is estimated that total revenue generated by the global economy will reach around $7 trillion by the end of 2050. 

Figure 4. Passenger Economy: Global revenue from services 2050 (US$, millions)

Source: Strategy Analytics (2017). 

Strategy Analytics expects these megatrends, with the implementation of fully autonomous cars of level five, to continue and allow mobility as a service, to open the door to a new emerging market that we call the “Passenger Economy”.

The direct effect of autonomous vehicles that turn drivers into passengers is the use of Mobility-as-a-Service. Consumers will use On-demand transport services that will allow them to move from gate to gate whenever they want and wherever they want with a boost in travel time efficiency. They will be able to program their travel in advance and minimize adverse risks.

Automobile manufacturers will become fleet operators themselves and will expand beyond the range of goods produced through the sale of adjacent freight or passenger services. 

Conclusion 

As it has been pointed out in this article, autonomous transport offers a number of potential benefits at both individual and collective level, such as: improving safety, fuel economy, reducing exhaust emissions, improving traffic flow and reducing congestion problems, mobility for the physically challenged etc.

However, there are many remaining obstacles and challenges before the higher or complete automation systems can be launched on a larger scale. In conclusion, autonomous vehicles are slated by their supporters to be the future of transport systems and will be introduced successively in global transport systems. 

References: 

Algeron, A.; Bucnor, C.; Cashman, K.; Rockeymoore, M. 2017. Stick Shift: Autonomus Vehicles, Driving Jobs and the Future of Work. Washington, DC: Center for Global Policy Solutions.

Anderson, J.M.; Kalra, N.; Stanley, K.D.; Sorensen, P.; Samaras, C.; Oluwatola, O.A. 2014. Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Offices.

Bansal, P. and Kockelman, K.M. 2018. Are We Ready to Embrace Connected and Self-Driving Vehicles? A Case Study of Texans. Transportation. 45(2):641-675.

Fagnant, D.J. and Kockelman, K.M. 2015. Preparing a Nation for Autonomous Vehicles: Opportunities, Barriers and Policy Recommendations. Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies 78:150-164.

Ford, M. 2015. Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. New York: Basic Books.

Manyika, J.; Chui, M.; Bughin, J.; Dobbs, R.; Bisson, P.; Marrs, A. 2013. Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global Economy. San Francisco, CA: McKinsey Global Institute.

Mawson, A.R. and Walley, E.K. 2014. Toward an Effective Long-Term Strategy for Preventing Motor Vehicle Crashes and Injuries. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 11(8): 8123-8136, August.

Milakis, D.; Van Arem, B.; Van Wee, B. 2017. Policy and Society Related Implications of Automated Driving: A Review of Literature and Directions for Future Research. Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems 21(4). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15472450.2017.1291351?scroll=top&needAccess=true.

Mindell, D. 2015. Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Pettigrew, S. 2017. Why Public Health Should Embrace the Autonomous Car. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 41(1):5-7.

Romer, M.; Weiss, C.; Gaenzle, S. 2016. How Automakers Can Survive the Serf-Driving Era. https://www.atkearney.com/documents/10192/8591837/How+Automakers+Can+Survive+the+Self-Driving+Era+%282%29.pdf/1674f48b-9da0-45e8-a970-0dfbd744cc2f.

Strategy Analytics. 2017. Accelerating the Future: The Economic Impact of the Emerging Passenger Economy. https://newsroom.intel.com/newsroom/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2017/05/passenger-economy.pdf.

Walker, J. 2019. The Self-Driving Car Timeline – Predictions from the Top 11 Global Automakers. https://emerj.com/ai-adoption-timelines/self-driving-car-timeline-themselves-top-11-automakers/.

 

 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016