Blog Posts

  • Looking Ahead: How AVs Will Impact Truck Drivers

    September 18, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    When Americans talk about robots taking their jobs, they’re often thinking of factory work. Lately, however, the conversation has a new spin. “Autonomous trucks are taking drivers’ jobs,” so the claim goes.  

    It’s important to note that while this concern is being presented as a problem that’s already rearing its head, autonomous trucks aren’t taking drivers’ jobs — yet. That said, there is some truth to it: if we’re looking several years down the line, the concern is real, and we need to develop a plan.

    1.7 million Americans are employed as truck drivers — making it one of the most common professions in the nation. But lately, truck driving jobs aren’t easy to fill. The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates a shortage of about 40,000 drivers that could grow to about 240,000 by 2022.

    The reason for the shortage is not entirely clear — trucking companies say that they’re having trouble replacing older workers entering retirement with young recruits, who seem less interested in the profession than previous generations — but we can all agree that driving a truck for a living is a tough job. The hours are long, and drivers spend the vast majority of their time alone. Not to mention the declining pay: in 1980, the average trucker in America was making an annual salary (adjusted for inflation) of more than $110,000. Today, truckers make an average salary of about $40,000 a year, all while putting in longer hours and sometimes having to overwork themselves as they compete with other drivers for the most profitable routes.

    But the driver shortage isn’t expected to last long, and yes, that is the likely result of autonomous truck technology. A report from the International Transport Forum says that 70% of truck driving jobs could be eliminated by 2030 because of self-driving trucks. A White House report, issued on December 16 of last year, estimates job losses between 80% to 100%. As with many issues surrounding AVs, there’s no consensus on issues of timing. For instance, a Goldman Sachs analysis, cited by Business Insider, suggests that AV adoption will be slow for several decades and significant driver losses due to technology are perhaps 25 years off, which is clearly at odds with the ITF report.

    How, you ask, is this shift going to change the industry and the truck driving profession?

    In the future, truckers could work more like airline pilots, maneuvering big rigs onto the highway and then flipping on the autopilot for most of the trip, taking over again only when they have to get off the main route. But that doesn’t exactly explain the job loss. After all, there is still be a driver in the cab.

    The explanation has to do, in large part, with the birth of a new technique — truck platooning —- which has already been proven to reduce fuel consumption dramatically in many studies. In fact, it’s expected to be the first “market-ready” connected-vehicle technique. The reason for its efficiency: aerodynamics. Following one another more closely than can be done safely by human drivers, wind resistance is reduced, making trucks more efficient.

    A common scenario — involving trucking fleets and independent truckers alike — is that trucks would merge onto the highway and meet up at a station (think of the weighing stations that already exist). At this point, a lead truck is selected — note that this truck is expected to have a driver in it for the foreseeable future — and is “wirelessly connected” to a platoon of several other trucks, which are all automated and set up to receive precise instructions from their connected leader. Now, the platoon is ready to barrel down the highway – spaced by mere feet – to the next station, where trucks can be removed and added from the chain based on delivery points.

    All of a sudden, what used to be a truck caravan starts to look more like a digital train, requiring only one driver, maneuvering in a reserved lane, which could be thought of as a railroad track. Point is, autonomous trucks will not be operating on the roads of today; they will be operating on the roads of tomorrow and, indeed, those roads look very different.

    The workforce will look different too: there will be fewer drivers, but they will need to be technically savvy, able to troubleshoot the connected system that will make the platoons possible. And remember, the trucks that are following the leader are expected to be driverless before long. If all goes to plan, even the lead truck may be driverless after several decades of perfecting the process.

    For technology enthusiasts, that all sounds exciting. But we must remember, when talking about job loss, we are ultimately talking about human beings, people whose dignity and well-being are at stake. So we need to be thinking ahead. 

    It’s easy to point out problems we may face in the future. What’s not as easy —- but incredibly important —- is beginning a dialogue about what can actually be done to offset the issues we can foresee. 

    There was an interesting op-ed in the LA Times recently that took this problem head-on. In it, several solutions were offered. For instance, we could already be thinking about adopting retraining programs for affected drivers. These programs have worked with some success when dealing with offshoring in other industries. We could also reconsider unemployment insurance. Laid-off drivers could receive adjustment assistance just like factory workers who lost jobs because of imports. And hey, we could get creative with how we fund these programs. As autonomous vehicle companies press Congress to enact laws that create a nationwide green light and a favorable regulatory framework for these vehicles, in exchange Congress could levy a tax on each driverless mile to finance the retraining, adjustment assistance, and/or unemployment insurance.

    My point is not to advocate for or against these solutions, but simply to say that we could — and we should — be thinking ahead. While autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to do great things — increase safety, help the environment, and even mitigate driver shortages — it’s like any other major technological advancement, it comes with changes built-in, and not all change is easy. 

    The good news is that we can see what’s coming, and we have plenty of time to properly prepare for the future. It’s clear that autonomous vehicles will be a boon to industry across the world, but we can also take steps to make sure it’s not a body blow to the American workforce at the same time.

    Rob Fischer, GTiMA President, is the chairman of the governance program at the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds (WI AVPG). If you are interested in working with the WI AVPG to explore this and/or other issues arising out of AV tech, please reach out at wiscav.org.

  • SELF DRIVE Act Passes Overwhelmingly in US House

    September 11, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President & Heath Davis-Gardner. Technology and Digital Culture Editor

    In today’s political climate, it’s shocking when an important bill passes in the House with a unanimous voice vote. Especially when it comes to federal regulations. But it just happened, and it’s a big deal for autonomous vehicle enthusiasts.

    The Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act isn’t a law yet — it still has to make it through the Senate and, after that, the joint Congressional reconciliation process. But the Senate Commerce Committee is currently working on a similar legislative package, and previously-debated measures on the Senate floor have shown that they’re ready to pass some AV legislation. One thing’s for sure: this Congress desperately wants to find some legislation they can actually pass, and the AV bill’s broad bipartisan support makes it very likely to wind up on the President’s desk for a signature.

    So what does this bill do exactly?

    The quick take: Katie McAuliffe, a contributor to TheHill, put it succinctly: “The act correctly delineates the purview of federal versus state regulation for autonomous vehicles. In short, federal regulatory bodies have authority when it comes to the car, while states have authority when it comes to the driver.” That’s it in a nutshell. But let’s look a little more closely at what the newly-defined federal and state roles are and what comes next.

    The new federal role: Assuming all goes as expected and a version of this bill becomes the law of the land, say goodbye to the patchwork of different state regulations for autonomous vehicle testing and manufacturing. NHTSA will be in charge of setting safety, performance, equipment and design standards for AVs, and automakers will be able to deploy up to 100,000 test vehicles apiece (read: vehicles that don’t meet federal safety standards), but only if they submit comprehensive safety assessment certifications to NHTSA and get its approval. Manufacturers will also have to develop cybersecurity measures and privacy protections.

    The new state role: States will still have a lot of issues to figure out: pretty much everything that has a “human element”. The state responsibilities will include licensing, registration, insurance, qualifications for operation, law enforcement, crash investigation, congestion management and emissions inspections. They’ll also have oversight over sale, purchase, and repair of AVs.

    What we’re still waiting for: Sec. Elaine Chao will release revised guidelines on AVs soon, which will update the Obama administration’s now-dated guidelines. NHTSA will also need to release AV-specific safety standards — but the position of NHTSA chief has yet to be filled by the Trump administration. (NHTSA does have acting administrators and an acting executive director in the meantime).

    Some concerns remain: Axios points out that the vehicle doesn’t address autonomous trucks specifically, and could have the side effect of hastening their deployment, but that the Senate is considering holding a hearing on that issue specifically. Also noted by Axios was the lack of clarity in the government’s role enforcing standards for cybersecurity, which the House bill asks manufacturers to address — but judging by a set of bipartisan principles for AV legislation released by U.S. Senators Thune (R-SD), Peters (D-MI) and Nelson (D-FL), which names cybersecurity as one of the chief areas of concern for both parties, it seems likely that specific language will be added as the Senate takes over the effort.

    And, finally, Axios raises the concern that as the 2018 midterms approach, the bipartisan spirit surrounding this measure might dissolve. While that does have a familiar ring to it, there are plenty of examples throughout recent electoral history where Congress managed to advance non-controversial legislation while it fell into gridlock on other issues. Both parties seem to be anxious to get these regulations into place, and neither party stands to gain anything but the ire of the public by choosing to slow it down. The fact that this passed the House with a unanimous voice vote speaks volumes, and it appears that the safe bet is that these proposed regulatory powers will become law before any national election approaches.

  • Questioning Popular Autonomous Vehicle Assumptions

    August 8, 2017 Robert Poole, Reason Foundation

    Those of us with the Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds regularly find ourselves questioning claims and allaying fears in the same breath. The following article captures this well and is re-posted with permission from Robert Poole, Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy, Reason Foundation. (Original Post)

    Many Autonomous Vehicle Assumptions Need to be Questioned

    As a transportation professional, I’m a bit overwhelmed by proliferating articles and technical papers dealing with autonomous vehicles. And I’m increasingly distressed by the growing disparity between what appears in the popular media and what’s in the technical literature, because the former is what seems to motivate legislators and planners. So here are five challenges to the mass-media version of our AV future.

    AVs will save millions of lives. Certainly, we all hope this will prove to be the case. But it’s not as simple as many people seem to think. As Washington Post reporters Michael Laris and Ashley Halsey III explained in a long feature article (Oct. 18, 2016), how will we know how much safer AVs are? Only about half of all crashes are reported to police (as opposed to insurance companies), and some people avoid doing the latter to avoid a possible premium increase. The former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mark Rosekind, said that widespread use of AVs should not proceed until they were demonstrated be “much safer” than conventional vehicles, but without comprehensive data on actual accident rates, it’s difficult to make such a comparison. Also, researcher Tom Dingus of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute points out that alert, attentive, sober drivers are very low risk. It’s drunk drivers plus very young and very old drivers that drive up the averages. In addition, the most promising form of vehicle automation relies on machine learning—but even the experts in that field have no idea what or how the machine actually learns. Matthieu Roy of the National Center for Scientific Research in France says that, “You would never put [a machine learning] algorithm into an airplane because you cannot prove [to regulators] the system is correct.”

    AVs Will All Be Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). A January 3, 2017, Wall Street Journal news article called “Wiring Streets for Driverless Cars” presented this conventional wisdom, which is being promoted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration with its Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) efforts. Reporter Paul Page touted new digital signs on a freeway near Washington, DC “as a first step toward what highway planners say is a future in which self-driving cars will travel on technology-aided roads lined with fiber optics, cameras, and connected signaling devices.” But unlike lower-brow media, Page went on to note that many billions of dollars would be needed to wire more than 4 million miles of paved roads and 250,000 intersections. If AVs depend on that kind of infrastructure investment, don’t bet on an AV future. Fortunately, most AV researchers don’t think anything like that is necessary. AVs, especially those with full (Level 5) autonomy, will need to be self-sufficient even in alleys, on gravel roads, and on countryside dirt roads.

    Full, Level 5 Autonomy Will Be Here within a Decade. In addition to academic researchers such as UC Berkeley’s Steven Shladover who projects Level 5 (all types of roadway, all weather conditions, no driver needed ever) as a 2075 phenomenon, a number of technology-literate commentators have begun throwing out caution flags. For example, telematics blogger Michael L. Sena headlined a recent issue of his The Dispatcher: “SAE Level 5 Driverless Cars Are Not Just Around the Corner.” He took issue with recent reports claiming that Transport as a Service (requiring Level 5) will be ubiquitous by 2030 nationwide. He also cited a thoughtful analysis by The Economist, headlined “Forget hype about autonomous vehicles being around the corner—real driverless cars will take a good deal longer to arrive.” Wired’s Aarian Marshall had a piece in February explaining “Why Self-Driving Cars *Can’t Even* with Construction Zones,” discussing very real problems with machine learning. He also noted an announcement by Nissan that its current plans don’t include Level 5; instead, they assume a human occupant who can take over control when the AI cannot cope, and the human can contact a Nissan call center for help.

    Fleets Are the Future, Not Owned AVs. A recent “analysis” by Governing magazine, summarized in the August issue, sounds the alarm that cities’ budgets are seriously at risk from the impacts of the transition to AVs. For the largest 25 cities, the magazine’s team collected data on parking revenues, fines and citations, traffic camera fines, gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees, etc. Many of these cities each year generate several hundred dollars per capita from these vehicular revenues, much of which could disappear in the AV future, warns the article. Except—much of the impact stems from the assumption that shared fleets of robo-taxis replace individually owned cars, thereby eliminating most urban parking requirements (and hence parking revenue). Another built-in assumption is that most or all AVs will be electric, which is hardly a given. Robotaxis and individually owned AVs that can go elsewhere after dropping the owner off require Level 5 automation, which is hardly a near-term phenomenon. So city officials should not begin losing sleep over plummeting parking revenues.

    AVs Will Reduce Congestion. As I’ve pointed out in previous issues, the majority view among AV researchers is that the transition to AVs will increase vehicle miles of travel (VMT), for a variety of reasons including bringing personal vehicle autonomy to millions who are unable to drive today, as well as reducing the time cost of commuting. But a related idea remains—that due to reduced distance between AVs on roadways, existing roads will be able to handle greater volume with less congestion. But even popular media are starting to consult experts who disagree. Business Insider recently interviewed Lew Fulton, co-director of UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies. He expressed particular concern about zero-occupant (Level 5) vehicles being a new source of increased congestion. Such vehicles, programmed to run errands, deliver packages, etc. will lead to far more cars on the road. Fulton calls them “zombie cars.”

    Before leaving these points, I want to recommend a more thoughtful article. Despite its misleading title, “The Road Ahead for Connected Vehicles” (when the article actually discusses AVs, not CAVs), is a sober discussion by industry experts—established auto industry people, high-tech AV pioneers, and consultants. It’s a product of Wharton’s Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation, which has absorbed the former MIT International Motor Vehicle Program. If you have time to read just one article to get a more balanced view of this challenging area, this one is hard to beat. (http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/road-ahead-connected-vehicles)

  • Bills, Bills, Bills: A Look at the AV Bills Currently Moving Through Congress

    July 7, 2017 Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology and Digital Culture Editor & Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    There’s been a lot of commentary in the media lately about the fix this Congress is in: they haven’t managed to pass any bills of substance, and time is running out before they take a long recess.

    Well, there’s good news, and it’s gone relatively unreported. There are over a dozen bills moving through the House and Senate, winning bipartisan support and looking like shoo-ins for passage into law.

    What do these bills all have in common? They all have to do with autonomous vehicles.

    Maybe part of the reason they’re not getting much coverage is the sheer number of them. What reasonable person has time to sit down and read 13 bills?

    So let’s make it easier on everyone and review exactly what each of these bills is meant to do.

    -The Partial Autonomous Vehicle Exemptions (PAVE) Act will increase the number of FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) exemptions the Secretary of Transportation is allowed to grant to a company — going from 2,500 to 100,000. These exemptions only are available to companies undergoing field evaluation or development “of a new motor vehicle safety feature providing a safety level at least equal to the safety level of the standard.” This means manufacturers and other companies will be able to test 100,000 vehicles per year that, for example, don’t have a steering wheel or pedals — because the safety promised by AVs is above and beyond current motor vehicles.

    -The Renewing Opportunities for Autonomous Vehicle Development (ROAD) Act will expand renewals for the aforementioned exemptions to last five years and authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to extend exemption renewals upon request.

    -The Disability Mobility Advisory Council Act directs the DOT Secretary to create a Disability Mobility Advisory Council, which will submit recommendations to Congress and the DOT Secretary about ways in which the federal government can advance mobility access to disabled communities. The council will be composed of representatives from the disability community as well as academics and members of the private sector.

    -The Improving Mobility Access for Underserved Populations and Senior Citizens Advisory Council Act is similar to the above bill, with a council that will provide recommendations on how AVs can enhance mobility for seniors and populations underserved by traditional public transportation.

    -The Highly Autonomous Vehicle Cybersecurity Advisory Council Act directs the DOT secretary to — you guessed it — create a third council, this one to advise Congress and Transportation on cybersecurity performance metrics for AV deployment, testing, and software updates. One of the areas in which the council will issue recommendations is “supply chain risk management”, so expect some prominent private-sector heavyweights on this council.

    -The MORE (Maximizing Opportunities for Research and Enhancement of) AVs Act will allow manufacturers to introduce non-FMVSS compliant vehicles into interstate commerce, provided they agree not to sell the vehicle when testing is complete. It would additionally expand the law to allow equipment manufacturers and distributors to do the same. What does this translate to? It means that AV testing won’t be limited to the state where the test vehicles are made. In other words, we hope to see Tesla, GM, and whoever else is interested in a good test track here at the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds.

    -The INFORM (Increasing Information and Notification to Foster Openness Regarding Autonomous Vehicles to States) Act directs NHTSA to have procedures in place for ensuring that states are informed when NHTSA or DOT issue exemptions for highly autonomous vehicles that will be deployed or tested in their state. In other words, no surprises. It also formally defines AVs to allow for smoother rulemaking going forward.

    -The DECAL (Designating Each Car’s Automation Level) Act requires manufacturers to place “highly visible” stickers on vehicles for sale that indicate the vehicle’s level of automation. (Only levels 3, 4 and 5 are required to bear these stickers).

    -The EXEMPT (Expanding Exemptions to Enable More Public Trust) Act expands the DOT Secretary’s authority to issue FMVSS exemptions for AVs that would either A) promote public adoption and acceptance, or B) increase mobility for people with disabilities. However, manufacturers must prove to the DOT that the vehicle is as safe or safer than vehicles that comply with existing FMVSS.

    -The MEMO (Managing Government Efforts to Minimize Obstruction) Act sets clear boundaries between NHTSA and the Federal Trade Commission, essentially to keep them out of one another’s lane regarding AV cybersecurity. The bill would direct the heads of NHTSA and the FTC to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would ward off overlap and duplication in their security oversight capacities.

    -The SHARES (Sharing Autonomous Vehicle Records with Everyone for Safety) Act would establish another council — yep, a fourth — that will develop a framework and practices for developers of Ads to share event, incident and crash data without risking that information being disseminated publicly or having to worry about proprietary information being leaked. If enacted, the council would be required to submit recommendations to the DOT Secretary and Congress within two years.

    -The AV PROMPT (Pre-Market Approval Reduces Opportunities for More People to Travel Safely) Act would prohibit the DOT secretary from establishing a pre-market approval or pre-certification process: in other words, USDOT would not have to assess the safety of any given vehicle before it is manufactured and/or sold.

    -The GUARD (Guarding Automakers Against Unfair Advantages) Act is designed to prevent leaks of proprietary information. This bill would require NHTSA, by law, to to keep secret any information about collisions, cybersecurity or vehicle design provided to them by manufacturers. This ensures OEMs and Tier 1s will be able to do all the testing they want without bad press coming (for example) from one failed test out of hundreds.

    One more. Ready? It’s a good one.

    -The LEAD’R (Let NHTSA Enforce Autonomous Vehicle Driving Regulations) Act would “establish NHTSA as the sole regulatory authority” for regulating AVs and expressly prohibits other government entities from prescribing motor vehicle safety standards for AVs. However, it would allow states and their political subdivisions to prescribe safety standards for AVs and AV components that the state purchases for its own use.

    Whew. That’s a lot to chew on, right?

    Clearly, the legal landscape for AVs is on its way out of is coming into view for lawmakers and federal government officials. While we may not necessarily think every one of these bills is essential, we at the WIPG applaud Congress for actually working together toward something constructive. And we’re excited about the prospects for more testing and for allowing vehicles to go interstate for testing.

    Wisconsin features some of the craziest weather swings in the nation, as well as a company that’s been in the LiDAR/geospatial mapping business for quite some time now along with great test tracks for the Proving Ground. We hope faraway manufacturers take note and decide to take their 100,000 prototypes for a spin on our courses. Especially as the winter rolls around, we expect manufacturers will want to take a look at how their prototypes perform in our snowy and icy season.

    So come on down, Tier 1s and OEMs! The federal government wants you to test, and we have just the right lab in which you can carry out your previously-forbidden experiments.

    (For those interested in ensuring elements of these bills are passed, or for people with concerns about one or two of these points, we strongly suggest contacting your Senators and Congressmen to give your take on this legislation.)

    Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

  • The Time Is Right For ADAS Testing

    June 27, 2017 Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology and Digital Culture Editor

    Have you seen this commercial? It starts with a woman in standing in the middle of the street, gazing up at a sky-written marriage proposal. We see that she’s in an urban area. A car comes quickly into the frame and even more quickly stops, as the words “automatic emergency braking” appear on-screen. Then the camera pulls back to show that we’re in a car going quite fast on a desert highway, with a couple watching this demonstration of emergency braking on their smartphone. “Wow, good to know we have automatic brakes,” says the woman. The man, entranced by the video, swerves out of his lane, which is corrected. “We have lane departure assistance, too,” he says with a smile.

    There are a lot of problems with this ad, and those of us that are excited about the AV age should be paying attention to it and ads like it. Because the fact is the public does not currently trust these automatic driver assistance systems (ADAS). J.D. Power recently released the results of a new survey that shows “basic semiautonomous features such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking and lane-departure assist notched the largest increase in complaints this year.” The analysis argues “these complaints signal an uphill battle … if car buyers aren’t convinced that the basic building blocks of self-driving cars work seamlessly now, they won’t buy a self-driving car in the future.”

    That should concern anyone with a stake in the ultimate success of autonomous vehicles. And the public may be correct to not trust them at present — these AAA statistics show that the efficacy of automatic braking systems is iffy at best. Automatic emergency braking, for example, only has a shot at working if the driver is going fairly slowly. There’s little consensus over what sensors should be used for which systems — that conversation is still ongoing — and there are other unknowns when it comes to ADAS that suggest many of these systems are not ready for prime-time.

    So why are car companies pushing these systems so quickly? The ad described above shows they’re aware of the limitations of their systems. The car that narrowly misses a pedestrian is going slowly, but we immediately cut to a car that’s going quite fast — a sneaky way to make the AEB system appear useful on the highway, when according to AAA, it’d be somewhere between 9 and 40% effective when traveling at 45 miles per hour.

    These companies are caught in an awkward position. They are aware of the need to maintain public trust once it’s time for level 3 and 4 autonomous vehicles. But they also need to continue to turn a profit in the meantime. So we can understand why they’re anxious to get these systems to market, but the systems need more than the small-sample public testing AAA carried out. There is still debate, for example, on whether lidar or radar is more effective for automatic emergency braking. Doesn’t it seem like this should be discerned before cars touting the feature are deployed? Shouldn’t consumers get systems that work as advertised? To ADAS our way to AVs, shouldn’t consumer trust be at least as valuable as a car sale?

    We understand the current plight of the OEMs — the genie is out of the bottle, ADAS systems are on the road, and they are features that have been proven to be desirable, at least in theory, to consumers. Nobody wants to get left behind when it comes to new and cool features. This is where the Wisconsin Proving Grounds comes in. By testing ADAS systems at the Proving Grounds, OEMs can simultaneously ensure the safety of their systems and — since they’d be doing so out in the open — gain public trust that is so crucial to their business model, both currently and in the near future.

    The time is right. It’s about to get easier to “ADAS our way to AVs” in terms of testing AV systems without needing an entire autonomous prototype. According to recent reporting, the House and the Senate are both advancing legislation to make AV testing easier on manufacturers, following hearings and meetings with over 100 industry stakeholders. There are over a dozen bills advancing through committees right now, but as far as the proving grounds go, we’re thinking this will help speed things along: lawmakers are looking to “raise the federal cap on the number of exemptions that can be granted to driverless carmakers who want to design and test cars without traditional automobile features.” Currently, while all cars are required to have steering wheels and pedals, federal waivers can only be granted a certain number of times per year for testing purposes, which constrains the ability of manufacturers to conduct serious testing. With that regulation eased, we think we’ll see a lot of ADAS action at the proving grounds.

    So, our message to auto manufacturers: this is your moment. Public opinion may be turning against some of the early iterations of autonomous features in vehicles, but there’s a clear path toward righting the ship. It’s coming at just the right time, with a confluence of regulations and test site availability opening the doors to a new intensity in regimes for testing ADAS systems. And with a growing public attention to all things AV — which is sure to result from the big legislative push that’s ongoing — it seems pretty clear the public will take notice. When that starts to happen and testing shows, for example, improvements to automatic emergency braking systems, those commercials are going to connect as well as they were meant to in the first place.

    Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

  • How Will AVs Navigate Signalized Intersections?

    June 27, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    Autonomous vehicles promise such a degree of improved safety that we sometimes picture them as all-powerful, faultless machines. To a large extent, they will need to be. But how can we be sure they’re safe even in the most risky situations?

    Consider the signalized intersection. Since their appearance at the end of the 19th century, traffic lights have been the primary mode of granting access to road intersections. However, traffic statistics show that, despite their claim to only a tiny percentage of road area, intersections are where 25% to 45% of all traffic collisions occur. Why is this?

    When you think about it, it starts to become obvious. Intersections bring together cars traveling in all directions and then asks them to proceed through in groups timed by traffic signals. If any one car makes a false start, or speeds through the intersection and collides with a car in front of them, the entire exchange is compromised. And since cars are coming from all directions at various speeds, the risk of an accident that causes injury and/or major damage to vehicles goes way up, too.

    So how will autonomous vehicles navigate the signalized intersection?

    Therein lies the debate: will AVs independently “sense” their way through intersections using onboard sensors capable of discerning, for instance, the color of traffic lights, all while communicating with other vehicles (V2V) — or will AVs be “escorted” through intersections via connected infrastructure (V2I)?

    As it turns out, the case for the V2V argument is in question. For starters, we would need to trust that every manufacturer has built in precise, latency-proof communications units that ensure constant communication with every other car. Statistically, the odds of that happening aren’t good, and it seems like too big of a risk when all it takes is the failure of one sensor on one car to cause an accident.

    Furthermore, according to a paper by the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, “a vehicle approaching an intersection can quickly find itself in a situation where a collision is unavoidable, even when it has acted optimally.” In other words, even if no car overtly malfunctions, you can hardly call the intersection safe. As the JAIR paper notes, an intersection has very specific points of potential collision – hotspots that only one car at a time can occupy. That’s engineer-speak for “two cars occupying one hotspot will cause an accident.”

    And this is why there’s a strong case for the V2I argument (where AVs get escorted through the intersection). The paper goes on to argue that an intersection needs its own “cooperative vehicle intersection control system (CVICS)” – hardware and software located at every interchange, which keeps an eye on all the points of potential collision and guides AVs through based on its safety-first algorithm.

    Remember that acronym, CVICS, because it’s going to be a huge factor in the success of autonomous vehicles. It is absolutely essential for the safety of AVs, which can’t reasonably be expected to never run into trouble in a complex intersection, no matter how advanced they become.

    Researchers at JAIR aren’t the only researchers arguing that CVIC systems are going to be a necessity for autonomous vehicles. There seems to be a consensus forming around the idea, to the point where researchers are now trying to determine the best algorithms for intersection control. MIT recently reported research on a “slot-based system”, similar to airplane-boarding procedures, designed for slow guidance through intersections in groups. They were essentially building on an IEEE research paper that offered a detailed algorithm for intersection control units to deploy.

    The results from IEEE’s testing of their algorithm is worth a look. Not only was the flow through the intersection optimized for safety as expected, researchers also noticed some other improvements: vehicle stop delay time was reduced by an astonishing 99%, improving average travel time (under the presumption that a commute will involve several encounters with CVICS) by 33% or more. Carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 44%, correlating directly with fuel savings of 44%. Basically, the researchers found that CVIC systems not only ensured safety, but made the process of getting through an intersection much faster. What’s not to like?

    We remain optimistic about the safety benefits offered by autonomous vehicles. But the research is out there, and it’s compelling. Rather than risk public distrust in autonomous vehicles following a few crash-causing anomalies in intersections, it makes sense to deploy CVIC systems with proven algorithms to make intersections foolproof.

    Just as we will eventually cede the wheel to our AVs, we will also need them to cede the wheel to CVICS from time to time and, in principle, the statistics showing such a disproportionate number of accidents occurring in intersections will shrink down to zero. We know that in the future our cars will be smart, but their interoperability with safety-oriented systems like CVICS will allow them to be brilliant.

  • Why the Breakthrough of Blockchains May Be “Blockchainless”

    June 26, 2017 Alexander Renz, Director, New Mobility Lab

    Blockchains, or more generally, Distributed Ledger Technologies have a huge role to play in the future of mobility. With the advent of connected autonomous vehicles as well as the rise of electric mobility and shared usage models, Distributed Ledger Technologies and the future of mobility is a perfect match.

    It is no surprise that the New Mobility ecosystem – automotive players, mobility service providers, insurance companies, telecommunications providers and smart city leaders – are exploring blockchain technologies. Many leading players are starting to embrace the key concepts of blockchains in order to solve real world problems related to identity management for people and machines, data control and integrity, information sharing, as well as trusted connectivity and cyber security.

    However, it appears that blockchain technologies have not been able to move beyond proof of concepts. Production deployments have been limited to ‘private” or ‘consortium-based’, rather than public blockchains. There are many reasons that help to explain this statement. For one, the concept of blockchain technologies is still relatively new. Along with this, the notion of distributed peer-to-peer architectures and new business models is challenging conventional thinking. The main reason, however, is much simpler: Blockchain technologies have inherent limitations.

    These limitations include lack of real-time validation of transactions, and the scalability issues that are inherent in the architecture. Related to this issue are transaction fees and the concentration of mining power.

    The notion of blocks being generated through the consensus process makes real-time validation and scalability hard to achieve. In fact, it is inherent in the architecture. Transactions and the consensus process are sequential. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of unconfirmed transactions in the case of Bitcoin introduce serious limitations for use cases. Furthermore, the concept of mining and the need for stakers to achieve consensus and create blocks introduces transaction costs. As complexity grows an increasing amount of energy and computational power is needed. Bitcoin’s mean transaction fees have already risen above $1. Even worse, transaction costs are difficult to predict and therefore undermine business models in the Internet of Things. In a world of micro-transactions the question arises, “who is going to pay for it?”

    Why a Blockchainless Approach Might be the Future

    With the IOTA protocol, an interesting new approach to distributed ledger technologies is emerging that does not rely on traditional blockchain approaches. The 4 co-founders behind IOTA – David Sonstebo, Dominik Schiener, Sergey Invancheglo and Serguei Popov – have been part of the “Blockchain 2.0” revolution and made major contributions to the space. For instance, Sergey Invancheglo invented proof of stake. As part of many projects they have experienced the inherent limitations of traditional blockchains and have conceived a new approach to distributed ledgers. The idea of IOTA was born in 2015.

    The main innovation behind IOTA is that it is a “Blockchain without the Blocks and the Chain”. The Tangle is a new distributed ledger architecture based on a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) that shares the same underlying principles and the key benefits of blockchains, just without their inherent limitations. Let me explain how.

    Rather than rely on the creation of blocks that are chained together, in the Tangle, a single transaction references two past transactions.

    The process involves 3 simple steps:

    1. Signing: The transaction inputs are signed with your private keys.

    2. Tip Selection: Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) is used to randomly select two tips that represent unconfirmed transactions, which will be referenced by your transaction.

    3. Proof of Work: In order to have your transaction accepted by the network, you have to do some proof of work.

    Once these 3 steps are completed, the transaction will be broadcasted to the network. Another network participant will come along, choose the transaction in the tip selection process and validate it.

    IOTA validates transactions without the need for miners and the associated cost of creating consensus. Instead of relying on a small subset of the network (miners / stakers), IOTA relies on the entire network of active participants to approve and validate transactions. Consensus is no longer decoupled from transactions, but rather an intrinsic part of the process. This allows IOTA to scale without any transactions fees.

    The benefits of this approach are apparent. IOTA achieves a step change in performance and scalability, which makes it particularly suitable for the Internet of Things with ultimately billions of connected things. Given that there is no such thing as ‘always on’ connectivity in the real world, the Tangle also supports offline transactions through partitioning. This allows clusters of IoT devices, such as cars and trucks, to branch off and still make transactions using P2P communication protocols.

    Since the transaction posting and consensus is parallelized, the network is inherently growing and scaling with the number of transactions. With the more transactions are being made, the Tangle becomes even more secure and efficient.

    The creation of IOTA formed the backbone of the Internet of Things and the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Economy: a world where scalability is a must, and where transaction fees are prohibitive to making business models work.

    The fact that IOTA does not introduce transaction fees makes it uniquely suited to IoT and M2M where a large number of micro- or even nano-transactions can be expected. The IOTA team envisions a future in which machines trade resources such as computation, electricity, storage, bandwidth, data and much more without the involvement of any third party. IOTA opens the doors to an Internet of Things that is not only secure and scalable, but makes business models in the M2M economy practical. It sets the industry on a path where it can move beyond proof of concepts and instead to real deployments.

    If you look up “IOTA” in the dictionary, you will find it is “something very small.”. If you “don’t care one IOTA about something”, it means you don’t even care about it one little bit.

    IOTA is a blockchainless approach to distributed ledgers. Should you care about it? Given its huge potential to become the backbone of the Internet of Things, I predict that IOTA will turn into something very big. We should not only care about IOTA. We should all get involved and use this revolutionary technology to shape our collective future.

    Click here to view a short introductory video, “Welcome to IOTA Universe”.

  • The Future We Want – Why I Am Passionate About Blockchains

    June 19, 2017 Alexander Renz, Director, New Mobility Lab

    Back in December 2000 I had my first meeting in my new role to help SAP develop a future vision and strategy for supply chain management. Together with Albrecht Diener I met Steve David, the then CIO of Procter & Gamble, who introduced us to his vision of a Consumer Driven Supply Network powered by a next generation Auto-ID technology and agent-based optimization.

    My next trip was to meet the Director of the MIT Auto-ID Center, Kevin Ashton in Cambridge, MA. Kevin is credited with inventing the term “Internet of Things” back in 1999 and has played a key role in shaping it. Next to the MIT Auto-ID Center, Steve David also introduced us to Stuart Kauffman from the Santa Fe Institute, the godfather of complexity science. Together with brilliant minds like Bill MacReady, Tony Plate, Fred Seibel, Brian Birk and Brian Potter we looked at swarm intelligence and how ants and termites organize themselves, how birds flock and how schools of fish protect themselves from predators. Ever since I was fascinated by the notion of smart, connected things and a future of autonomous, self-organizing systems.

    The challenge we faced was that we did not really have the underlying infrastructure to manage such systems. How do you manage a global network of smart, connected objects? How do you give them an identity? How do you steer the behavior of these independent economic agents in a way that leads to a somewhat optimized outcome for the entire system? How do you enable transactions between these smart objects? How do we create a record of transactions in a world of distributed systems? And how do you keep such a system secure? We could not really find a satisfactory answer to these problems at the time.

    When I discovered blockchain technologies almost 15 years later, I felt like I finally found this missing piece. Blockchains or more generally distributed ledger technologies promise to deliver the backbone for the Internet of Things. In the not too distant future, we might have fleets of electric robot taxis swarm out like ants to look for passengers. Distributed ledger technologies will play a critical role in this emerging Machine-to-Machine economy.

    We have done projects with world leading companies to explore the potential of the technology. The more we learn, the more excited we are about its potential to change the world for the better. We believe that distributed ledger technologies are critical to shaping our collective futures. Thanks to people like Rob Wolcott, Yossi Vardi, Maurizio Rossi and Plamen Russev we have become part of a global ecosystem of innovation. In our many discussions at events such as DLD, KINglobal, webit, 4YFN, Kinnernet, Autonomy and TU Detroit more and more people seem to agree that we need to make sure that technology serves us as humans. We all need to make sure that we create a future where humanity, life and the planet can thrive.

    We aim to create a platform to empower more people to understand the technology and its key concepts and implications. In the next weeks and months, we will share more and more of our thinking around blockchains and distributed ledger technologies.

    · We will make the technology and its key underlying concepts and implications understandable to a larger audience.

    · We will share our passion for a world where people and things have digital identities that can be shared and trusted across a network.

    · A world where our data is no longer compromised by storing it in large honey pots of data that attracts hackers.

    · We will explore why distributed ledger technologies are critical to securing the Internet of Things. We will explore the role of blockchains in machine learning and artificial intelligence, autonomous robotic systems and the emerging Machine-to-Machine Economy.

    · We will examine new business models and how we as humans can thrive in this future.

    We want to build a future we all want to live in. I hope you will join us on that journey. We all must play an active role in shaping the future, or somebody else will create it for us. A future we might not like. Let’s create the future we want!

    Alexander Renz is Director at the New Mobility Lab, a not-for-profit organization with the charter to raise awareness and scale knowledge related to distributed ledger technologies in the New Mobility ecosystem. New Mobility Lab is a platform for sharing real world experiences and executing pilots and proof of concepts across the public and private sector. To learn more, click here.

  • Busting The “Heavier Traffic” Myth

    June 9, 2017 Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology and Digital Culture Editor

    When you’re tracking the evolution of autonomous vehicles via Google News alerts, every day starts with something interesting and often exciting. But some of the time, an article is only interesting because of how misleading it is.

    There’s a reason for that. As we’ve been reporting for some time now, sometimes a writer or a publication decides to take a sliver of information out of context and turn it into click-bait.

    The result, of course, is a scary and/or discouraging headline blowing up your RSS feed. This week’s culprit: “Self-Driving Cars Could Be Terrible for Traffic – Here’s Why.”

    This is a rare case. Not only is the argument spurious, the tone actually gets worse after the headline.

    Usually, a click-bait headline gives way to an article that begins to pull its punches or makes caveats. But the lead three paragraphs of this particular article take this fascinating progression: “(p1)Self-driving cars might make your future commute a lot more pleasant, but they won’t eliminate traffic” … (p2) Execs like Sergey Brin of Google say they will… (p3) “But experts say the vehicles’ impact on traffic will be minimal or negative.”

    So, it’s not really that they’re saying self-driving cars “could be” terrible for traffic. They’re saying they will be.

    Of course, as expected, the expert quoted in the following graf says nothing that calls for that sort of language. The expert says “autonomous vehicles won’t fix congestion woes unless a pricing system is put into place” for zero-occupancy vehicles to discourage companies from using AVs as a free alternative to shipping carriers like UPS and the postal service.

    Buried deeper in the piece, almost as an afterthought, are examples of states that have already begun putting such pricing systems into place.

    It may seem like a small thing. This is just one article, after all, in a sea of articles, if you search “autonomous vehicles and congestion” that all say in one way or another how much AVs will help reduce congestion. ( Here’s one of my recent favorites, from MIT’s Technology Lab, about how just a few AVs on a road among standard-driver cars dramatically reduces congestion.)

    But this is how myths are made. The power of the Internet is strong, and the power of the human mind to think it knows something because it read it on the Internet may be even stronger. For the average news consumer who hasn’t been making an effort to stay abreast of every new study and survey that point to the undeniable promise of autonomous vehicles, all it takes is chancing upon this one article, and suddenly they know a new “fact” about AVs.

    And they tell their friends. And their friends tell their friends. And so on, and so on.

    But as we argued months ago, this is a deeply irresponsible act every time a respectable news outlet plays on the public fears of the unknown to make a spurious argument just to get some traffic for their banner advertisers. To paraphrase Elon Musk in the above-linked piece, every time a journalist writes an anti-AV piece, they’re potentially putting human lives at risk.

    Because we shouldn’t lose the big picture here. Yes, states will have to adjust regulations to account for businesses that want to use AVs as free courier services. The switch to autonomous vehicles isn’t going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to be a situation where we just have a new kind of vehicle but we keep all the laws exactly the same. But the idea that states, which often find it extremely hard to tighten the belt enough to find money for road repairs, would simply go along with companies using AVs for free deliveries is absurd. Of course the company would need to pay for using public infrastructure for wide-scale delivery services. It’s hard to think of a state that wouldn’t jump at the chance of opening a revenue stream for transportation in this way.

    Here’s the big point this argument gets us to, though – one totally missed by its author. So let’s imagine this future where businesses are having to pay a per-mile tax for unmanned delivery services. First of all, they’re economizing their own use of VMT (vehicle miles traveled) to get the job done for as little as they can have to use the roads, which means the nightmare scenario put forth by this article never comes true (as the expert cited in the article says) and yes, traffic congestion does decrease. The state, meanwhile, is getting some extra money to make road infrastructure repairs and even invest in new pieces of infrastructure. The environment is benefitting from the drop in congestion, and maybe will even more from smart infrastructure the state invests in. And people are still getting their packages on time.

    This is the thing with these misleading articles. If you stop to logically step through the scenario they’re positing, and you account for basic common sense they forgot to include, their hollow scare piece turns into another rosy-looking scenario for AVs.

    This isn’t just optimism on my part. Here’s a little experiment you can do to see my point in action. Go ahead, search around the internet for the benefits of AVs on any given topic, from safety to land use. Notice the hundreds of immediately available news articles and the plethora of white papers and academic journal articles.

    Then Google the exact opposite of what you just saw hundreds of articles about. Example query: “autonomous vehicles will be less safe”. Something we know beyond a shadow of a doubt isn’t true. And yet, there you see all the click-baity counterexamples.

    If I’ve written in a colloquial style here, it’s only been because I want to keep your attention. The point is deadly serious. Journalists need to stop worrying so much about getting clicks and start being responsible to their sources as well as their readership by avoiding this sort of crass misappropriation of context.

    News outlets, just consider it: it’s completely possible to support your business model without scaring people into clicking headlines. AVs are exciting enough in their own right. We know you’ll catch on soon.

    Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

  • Introducing the AV Mythbusting Series

    May 23, 2017 Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology and Digital Culture Editor

    Growing up in the 80s without cable TV, a Nintendo or the very idea of the Internet, I did a lot of reading. One of my most treasured books, likely published in the 1970s, was full of scientists’ predictions about the future. I couldn’t wait to see some of this stuff come true: telephones with video screens so you could see the other person, cars that could take off from highways and rise to a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, movie theaters with remote controls that let the audience vote on what the main character should do next.

    It was fun to read, but ultimately gave me little indication of what the future was going to look like. I never dreamed I’d have a pocket computer with a processing power thousands of times greater than my mom’s IBM 286. Or that I’d be able to instantly communicate with anyone in the world with it. Or, for that matter, that cars would eventually be able to drive themselves. Even in the vision of flying cars, there still needed to be a pilot.

    Here’s the thing – the future is very difficult to predict. Even very credible people who specialized in artificial intelligence swore that a computer program could never learn to beat a grandmaster at chess. They were proved wrong two decades ago.

    Even today, we can’t predict the future with a hundred percent certainty. The things we highlight about autonomous vehicles are always based on research rather than empirical proof, but we do this because we see so many potential benefits that could come from the technology once it is fully realized. The number of fatalities per year from the current auto culture is staggering and the harm reduction AVs could bring is one of many factors that motivate our optimism.

    But there are some out there who doubt. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a difference between openly doubting and outright sowing of negative myths. And unfortunately, it seems like these doubts, when stated as facts, serve as amazing click-bait for people that are instinctively concerned about AVs.

    So we’ve decided to begin a series where we’ll look at a few of these myths and shine some light on them. The potential benefits of AVs are promising enough to demand this approach.

    Let’s start with one of the most well-worn chestnuts of doubt.

    MYTH: AVs will cost so much that only the rich will be able to use them.

    Some people never get past a figure that is oft-cited by AV doubters: $250,000. That’s how much a fully autonomous vehicle is estimated to cost given the current price of sensor technology. And, yes, that is on the surface a prohibitively expensive price tag for the vast majority of people. But it’s founded on two myths: one, that manufacturers will never find a way to make LiDAR sensors at a lower cost. (They’ve already made some breakthroughs there). But the second part of it is that it’s based on an unrealistic picture of what a culture powered by AVs would look like.

    A recent study from Columbia University’s Earth Institute suggested that AVs could be run for 30 to 50 cents per mile, down from a $3-5/mile cost to taxi companies under the current regime. In Manhattan, they concluded, the rate would be about 40 cents a mile – whereas today the cost to companies is around $4/mile. If taxis and Ubers were 90 percent cheaper than they are today, would you rather pay to maintain your own car and deal with the regular hassles of repair and regular tune-ups, or spend one to two dollars per day being taxied all around town? Which would be more convenient for making it to work on time or getting your kids home from school? It’s a no-brainer.

    This cost reduction could be even more dramatic. Currently, cabs have to focus on one customer per ride. People sometimes share taxis if they know one another and are at the same pick-up point, but rideshare apps have already shown the potential to drastically cut fares even under the $4/mile to operate conditions. If the reduction in costs to operate were paired with the ride-sharing component, getting around town via a hired car would cost far less than it currently costs to own and operate a car.

    So, yes, if the technology remains as expensive as it is now – a big ‘if’ – maybe you won’t own your own autonomous vehicle. But maybe you wouldn’t even want to. Imagine never having to worry about changing the brake pads or renewing your registration again while still getting around town just as easily. I don’t know about you, but personally, that sounds like a future I can accept.

    Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

  • Wisconsin Executive Order on AV Development

    May 18, 2017 Peter Rafferty, UW-Madison

    Governor Walker issued an Executive Order today “Relating to the Creation of the Governor’s Steering Committee on Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Testing and Deployment.” Click here to read it (pdf).

    This is an important recognition by the State of Wisconsin of the R&D work UW-Madison does on AVs, CVs, and related mobility advances, while acknowledging the incredible transformation upon us and the myriad benefits for Wisconsin.

    “the removal of barriers to the testing and deployment of automated and connected vehicle technology in Wisconsin may produce significant social, economic, environmental, and innovative benefits including enhancing mobility, creating jobs, and improving transportation efficiency”

    Wisconsin is in a legal grey area for certain types of advanced AVs operating on public roads, and we are fortunate that our legislators and governor support the AV Proving Ground’s work on the “path to public road evaluation.” Among the missions of this new committee is to identify statutes, code, laws, or rules “that impede the testing and deployment” on roads.

    These are complex issues that affect all of us and touch many disciplines. The AV Proving Grounds team looks forward to working with this committee over the next 13 months. Learn more about our AV Proving Grounds here, or send us a note at Feedback@WiscAV.org.

  • Voters Care About Infrastructure

    May 18, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    Editor’s note: Happy infrastructure week! This is the week during which Congress devotes most of its time to exploring possibilities for improving America’s infrastructure. At least, that’s what they usually do. This time around, all eyes are on the Trump/Comey situation, and likely will remain there for a while. But let’s just pretend there weren’t any political problems blocking actual policy decisions during this crucial week and dive into one of our favorite topics: infrastructure.

    Sometimes you have to sort through the bad news to find a silver lining. A recent poll may turn the stomachs of the Trump administration and Republicans in congress, but if they read it carefully, they’ll see they have a chance to turn things around: and it’s not by repealing Obamacare or building the border wall – it’s by delivering on Trump’s campaign promises regarding infrastructure.

    The poll in question was a survey of midterm voters in four swing states flipped by Trump in 2016 – Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And there’s no two ways about it: things are looking bleak for him and his party. A whopping 80% of voters surveyed, for example, say they believe that Trump lies. A plurality of voters don’t feel he’s been successful, and a majority of those voters feel he has himself to blame. A majority of voters also will blame Trump and Congressional Republicans if spending disagreements result in a government shutdown.

    But the poll contains some clues for what the administration ought to do next. Trump needs a win, but with recent efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act floundering in Congress and disagreements over the border wall holding up spending bills, it would appear Trump needs to adjust his priorities.

    According to the write-up of the results, “voters are lukewarm regarding Trump’s campaign promises” — for example, only 40% o0f respondents said they’d be disappointed if the border wall isn’t built, and 3/4ths of the disappointed would still vote Republican in the midterms anyway – but they do have one priority in mind: infrastructure.

    Infrastructure is “the most popular and ‘deal-breaking’ of the four promises tested … with 57% of voters indicating disappointment if it does not pass by 2018, and only 53% of that subset indicating they would vote Republican [if it doesn’t happen].”

    So we hope the administration is paying attention. And judging by a few recent decisions, it would appear that the President will need to change tack to get it done through bipartisan consensus.

    Not only is bipartisanship essential to getting a bill passed – we’ve reported the difficulty in moving an infrastructure bill through Congress in more than one piece – it’s completely doable. Democrats, at least in theory, love the idea of investing in infrastructure. Many Republicans have also named infrastructure as a major priority. Both parties know this is a popular, necessary measure.

    For that reason, it’s somewhat disappointing to learn from a Politico transportation reporter that a recent confab between DOT secretary Elaine Chao and the House Transportation Committee was “a Republicans-only affair… Democrats were not informed about the meeting.” The meeting was to discuss the role of public-private partnerships in an infrastructure funding initiative. While Republicans and the Trump administration may like this approach more than Democrats do, transportation and infrastructure (T&I) Democrats have always maintained they believe public-private partnerships have a role to play in any infrastructure bill.

    Hopefully, the administration is just finding its sea legs. Politico also recently reported that the Trump administration’s practice of adding “senior advisers” at every federal department has completely backfired and that they’re looking to give up on this “shadow cabinet.”

    The shadow cabinet plan was especially bad at DOT. Senior adviser Anthony Pugliese, according to a DOT source speaking with Politico, “got off to a rough start when he ordered the blocking of all outgoing mail in the early days of the administration, supposedly to prevent last-minute Obama decisions from going out the door, then neglected to lift the order. The result was a giant stack of mail full of obscure bureaucratic missives that nobody knew what to do with.”

    Secretary Chao herself was put off by the shadow cabinet push. The DOT source said that “Pugliese at one point informed Chao that he wanted to approve every DOT policy prior to its public release, which took Chao by surprise.” According to the source, “the secretary was like, ‘um, what’s your name again?'”

    The Trump administration has had a go at dealing with these vital infrastructure issues without compromise. Press covering the above mishaps has certainly done nothing to aid his efforts. But ultimately, it all comes down to votes. The administration needs a win, and the data shows that the win comes in the form of an infrastructure package.

    So it’s time for Trump and congressional Republicans to finally invite Democrats to the table, admit that they need to work together to pass an infrastructure bill, and get started right away finding common ground on language and purpose. It will take some compromising, but isn’t that what Congress is supposed to do?

    And just in case infrastructure becoming a national emergency isn’t enough motivation, the administration can just take the pulse of the swing states that put them in power. If they want to continue chairing the Transportation committees, along with all the rest, it seems clear that the infrastructure bill is the win they need to retain the confidence of their voters.

  • Can Government Overcome Hurdles to Infrastructure Investment?

    May 4, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President & Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology and Digital Culture Editor

    How many government officials — national, state, regional, and city — does it take to modernize the infrastructure of the United States?

    There’s no good punchline, and only one answer that fits: too many. And whether this large group of politicians can actually pull it off remains to be seen.

    There are, unfortunately, roadblocks at both the state and federal level, and plenty of them. Each of them makes it a little bit harder for the Trump infrastructure proposal to come to fruition. Added together, they paint a bleak picture. So let’s take a look at this problem at both the federal and state levels.

    FEDERAL

    Last month, we looked at vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies and how important they are to the rollout of autonomous vehicles. In that piece, there was a choice quote from Adie Tomer of the Brookings Institute: “developing a single Infrastructure bill would require a Congressional Tower of Babel.”

    It’s an interesting conceit. You may remember the story of the Tower of Babel, but here’s the gist: at that time, humans all spoke the same language, and because that enabled them to work together so effectively, they managed to build a tower that reached heaven. In the story, God saw it as an affront to his power: “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible to them.” So he created different languages to confuse everyone and doom the project.

    The tale is meant to explain why there are different languages and cultures, and why we have national/cultural conflicts. But read today, in the context of developing a national infrastructure strategy, Tomer’s allusion is quite apt. Because for something as huge as modernizing the nation’s infrastructure, there is going to have to be unity – everyone speaking the same language. Especially since this isn’t just a matter of repairing old infrastructure. We’re seeking to create smart roads and other V2I infrastructure — they’re essential aspects of the AV and smart city future, and they’re not going to just build themselves.

    And in that same Brookings piece, Tomer goes so far as to say “there’s no such thing as an infrastructure bill.” That’s surprising, given the amount of talk from the Trump administration about a $1 trillion infrastructure investment.

    So why would a Brookings fellow say this? Not “infrastructure can’t pass,” but “there will never be a bill”? We need a “tower of Babel”? We know Congress can’t get along, but can’t they just put aside party politics for once? If only it were that simple!

    You might expect that there’s a subcommittee somewhere in the US legislature that oversees America’s infrastructure. And you’d be correct. The problem is, there are several of them — in each chamber — all claiming some jurisdiction over US infrastructure. The result: trench warfare.

    When browsing through a list of the standing Senate committees trying to determine who has jurisdiction over infrastructure, you might naturally stop at the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee. Seems like the natural place for it. And it is: the committee oversees “communications, highway safety … regulation of interstate common carriers, technology research and development of policy, standards and measurement, [and] transportation.”

    But there are subcommittees within Commerce, Science and Transportation with overlapping interests, especially if our new infrastructure is going to be V2I-equipped, which it must be. There’s the Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over wireless communications — an integral function of V2I tech.

    Then there’s the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security subcommittee, which oversees the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “in creating safe and fuel efficient vehicles.”

    And the Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee, which, among other things, oversees the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — and good standards are crucial for V2I interoperability.

    Finally, there’s the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security subcommittee, which “has jurisdiction over interstate transportation policy issues,” and oversees DOT and the Office of Research and Technology, as well as independent transportation regulatory boards.

    Obviously, all these subcommittees would have to work closely together, each representing jurisdiction over an element of V2I technology, in order to ensure the right language is in a hypothetical infrastructure bill. But at least they’re grouped under one larger committee. Subcommittees often disagree within the framework of the larger committee they’re serving — sometimes due to constituency and re-election issues, occasionally due to ideology — but ultimately, the committee at large takes their recommendations into consideration when deciding whether to move a bill to the floor or not.
    So it should still be doable, right?

    Maybe not. Because there are some other standing committees with jurisdiction over similar, and sometimes the same, aspects of infrastructure. And this is where the need for a “tower of Babel”, a shared language, becomes really apparent. Unless all these standing committees and subcommittees are coming at infrastructure with a uniform point of view, this is where the whole bill really risks falling apart.

    Just a couple of examples: the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee enjoys jurisdiction over “urban mass transit systems and general urban development issues” — road infrastructure in cities would need their OK. There’s the Environment and Public Works committee, whose jurisdiction includes construction and maintenance of highways, and a subcommittee called Transportation and Infrastructure that oversees “transportation”, according to their website.

    But wait, you may be saying… How can there be a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that has jurisdiction over transportation, while you just read about the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee claiming the same jurisdiction? Well, that’s part of the problem. I’ll spare you further descriptions of committees and subcommittees that have similar jurisdiction, but believe it or not, there are four others (in each chamber!) that also claim some oversight over transportation and infrastructure. And if you begin to include things like data security and collection that will be necessary with V2I infrastructure, that number gets even bigger.

    And let’s just say these committees all, through sheer luck, managed to agree on exactly what was needed for infrastructure in a sweeping reform and funding bill. They’d still have to get through Appropriations, which has the final say in allocating monies for the bill. And, wouldn’t you know it, there are Appropriations subcommittees that could wind up at loggerheads over money, too. There’s the Transportation and HUD subcommittee, which funds DOT as well as surface transportation projects, but there’s also the Energy and Water Development subcommittee, overseeing the US Army Corps of Engineers and others that build “civic works projects.”

    Considering that Congress doesn’t have a great track record, especially recently, of being able to come to consensus on budgetary issues, it would appear Tomer is right. There are too many cooks spoiling the broth in Congress. And, remember, if the Congressional committees did all somehow hammer out an agreement on infrastructure and then there was agreement about how to fund it, and a majority of Senators passed the bill, the President would still have to sign it into law.

    The question ultimately becomes: would a Congressional Tower of Babel even be enough if legislators managed to unify around this issue? It doesn’t take much for a bill to die in committee. The Congress must recognize the urgency of this issue and be brave, since not everybody is going to be able to impress their state constituents and please their fund-raisers in the short-term. A massive investment in infrastructure transcends those concerns – it’s the role of the federal government to make these big decisions for the good of the nation, and, dare we say it, to compromise with one another in doing so.

    Take a deep breath — it gets tougher.

    STATE

    Recently, Reuters ran an investigative report about the astonishing delays infrastructure faces at the state level.

    Part of the report focused on a saltwater-to-freshwater treatment plant that might be built in Huntington Beach, California. If you’ve been following the news over the past few years, you know that California is in desperate need of fresh water — it’s been enough for the governor to declare a state of emergency multiple times. The drought has threatened crops, started wildfires, and caused the citizenry to worry about whether their taps would even continue to flow if it went on. So this piece of infrastructure could reasonably be called an emergent need.

    Here’s the problem: the project was proposed in the late 1990s, with permit requests sent to the requisite boards and commissions. By the early 2000s, the city of Huntington Beach had approved it, but the builder still needed 24 more permits from state agencies to build the facility. Some of these permits required other permits before the project could even be considered, so the timeline went like this:

    • In 2007, the company finally got approved by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is federally mandated by the EPA to ensure that a piece of water infrastructure has an effective pollutant discharge elimination system. Following that approval, the company was able to apply for a permit from the California Coastal Commission.
    • The CCC permit application required dozens of amendments — because as time went on with the permit pending, new laws and regulations took effect. The company had to completely redo its design, for example, when the state decided to phase out power plants that use seawater for cooling purposes.
    • After several redesigns and permit amendments, the company had to temporarily shelve their application with the CCC in 2013, who directed them to look into concerns about the effects of the plant on fish larva in the area.
    • Two years later, all fish larva concerns cleared, the permit was resubmitted in 2015 — but withdrawn again in late 2016, because the commission wanted proof that the plans complied with rules passed in 2015. This compelled the company to redesign their saltwater intake and discharge technologies.
    • As of this writing, the company still doesn’t have approval from the CCC, along with two other agencies. The other 21 permits have been issued. The company’s optimistic prediction is that by the second quarter of 2018, construction can finally begin.

    Again: designed by a company in the mid 90s, applied for in the late 90s. 20 years later, they’ll be able to begin construction, if they’re lucky. And this isn’t just some big industrial blight that one could argue deserves to be held up. It’s a piece of infrastructure that would directly address what the state’s governor has officially called an emergency.

    That means it’s a cautionary tale. No matter the importance of a new piece of infrastructure, a single major project can be stalled for decades as it seeks all requisite permits. Many of these permit agencies do environmental impact studies that take a year or two apiece. If there wasn’t so much bureaucracy and agency-level politics, maybe a state could agree to do a single environmental impact study per proposal. This would drastically reduce the wait time while still ensuring infrastructure projects would be at least environment-neutral.

    But, again, to do this, there would have to be broad agreement across state agencies with overlapping jurisdiction on infrastructure projects. Sound familiar? A single Congressional tower of Babel was already pitched by Adie Tomer as an impossibility – could we possibly manage to come up with an additional 50 of them?

    WHAT TO DO?

    This is not a rosy picture. An infrastructure bill is going to be very hard to pass federally, and then each individual piece of it will likely face roadblocks at the state level. But when it comes to looking for V2I technology to be put into place — a necessary aspect of rolling out AVs — there is some degree of hope here. Infrastructure is a national emergency. The short-term approach to upkeep of failing infrastructure is costing cities far more than it would cost to repair and/or build new infrastructure. There are water emergencies across cities and states not just limited to California. We got a reminder from Atlanta recently that there are road and bridge emergencies waiting to happen nationwide, too. So eventually something is going to have to be done in spite of all this gridlock. It’s a shame that infrastructure has decayed so badly that it truly is a national emergency, but if there’s a silver lining, at least it’s happening now as opposed to ten years ago.

    Because now we have the science and technology to integrate V2I technology into the infrastructure that will have to be rebuilt. With that technology, we will be able to monitor the condition of infrastructure so we will know when it needs low-cost servicing that will prevent a high-cost emergency down the road. We will be able to roll out autonomous vehicles, which will save money for companies and city/state governments in such impressive fashion that eventually the infrastructure spending will be made up for and then some.

    We just need elected officials at all levels of government to recognize this is an emergency — from an economic, social and security standpoint — and find a way to overcome all the various hurdles to get this done all at once. This is the nation that got behind the New Deal and, through sweeping efforts, pushed through a depression that could have ended the nation entirely. No Congressional tower of Babel was required, because the emergency was obvious. All it takes now, as it did then, is a government that’s courageous and responsible enough to take on the challenge and admit the severity of the crisis before it’s too late. And this time we have the added benefit of being able to use the opportunity to bring in innovations that will prevent the emergency from happening again.

    So we hope the government’s response to the question — how many governmexnt officials does it take to repair infrastructure — is “all of them, bravely working together, putting the national interest ahead of personal agendas, speaking the same language.” That’s the real answer – it’s not a joke.

    Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

  • Smart Infrastructure Will Let Us Breathe Easy

    May 3, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    It’s tough to gauge the benefits of a technology that isn’t live yet. Saying “we don’t know” is a lot safer.

    While many of us are excited about the potential of autonomous vehicles to dramatically cut emissions and reduce the carbon footprint laid down by humanity, there are some researchers that are saying “hit the brakes”.

    Sometimes these warnings are couched in studies that bring us good news. Within the past month, a report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) delivered some encouraging findings: by 2050, connected autonomous vehicles could reduce fuel consumption in cars by 44%. And just this week, the Institute for Transportation and Development policy released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ridesharing in urban areas –and they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80%. In other words, the good news, when reported, is breathtakingly good.

    But some continue to find ways to cast doubt on these findings. These reports come on the heels of another study published late last year by the Center for American Progress (CAP) that painted a bleaker picture – and the EIA study repeated the concerns raised by the CAP report. The summary of those concerns: “all this potential to reduce emissions could be wasted, and could be made worse than it is even today. It all depends on how people adapt to these vehicles.” These studies promote a wait-and-see approach. After all, they argue, what if people love AVs so much that they just ride around in them all day, thus exceeding the current average miles traveled per vehicle? This seems to be the top concern in both reports.

    Good news. We do know already of existing technology that is proven to reduce emissions and is being deployed for that purpose worldwide. Transportation tech covers more than just the vehicles on the road, it extends to the roadways themselves – and how they’re managed.

    So we don’t have to get involved in a hypothetical argument here. It may seem a little less futuristic and exciting than the idea of an AV automatically adjusting to limit emissions while driving, but smart city technology is already proven to cut emissions in a big way: up to 15% nationwide, once intelligent traffic systems are adopted on a wide scale. That data comes courtesy of a recent white paper by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation & The University of California-Davis.

    15% may not seem like much, but the Climate Change Authority is calling for a 20% reduction in traffic-specific emissions. That means that even if people get addicted to their AVs and presumably overuse their vehicles, if they manage to reduce emissions even by 5%, we could meet that goal. And if – as we believe they will – AVs fulfill the promise to slash emissions by a third, we could end up exceeding the CCA’s goal.

    So what are these complementary systems that offer such enticing benefits?

    Intelligent traffic systems are just a piece of the smart city vision. But they’re also the systems that are the most developed. Cisco, Siemens and IBM all have comprehensive intelligent traffic systems on the market, as do many other companies. Many of the systems have been in place for some time, but their benefits aren’t known to most people. So what’s in an intelligent traffic system – how do the pieces fit together, and how does each play a role in cutting emissions?

    Here are just a few examples — all of which rely on smart technology for dynamic minute-to-minute adjustments that allow them to reduce congestion and emissions at the maximum rate.

    Traffic monitoring systems use sensors, wireless communication and real-time data processing to estimate traffic flow, density and speed. The information gathered by these systems can be used to improve management on the municipal side and can also help travelers find alternate routes when there’s a big load on the highway. These systems help reduce traffic congestion, which in turn cuts emissions.

    Integrated corridor management uses techniques such as dynamic ramp metering for highway access ramps and advanced signal timing on arterial road networks, both of which promote improved traffic flow. Again: a reduction in congestion means fewer emissions.

    Travel demand management uses dynamic pricing to increase toll costs for drivers who wish to use a highway when it’s badly congested. The supply and demand effect applied to roads naturally results in many drivers seeking alternate routes rather than pay a big toll. A reduction in congestion – you can guess what comes next, fewer emissions.

    Some of these measures have been in place for some time. Even your E-Z pass for toll booths helps the environment. If you think those electronic payment systems are great because you get to speed through a toll booth more quickly, you’re not wrong. But that same freedom to move through the tollbooths without stopping does its own bit to cut congestion. Those passes take you out of the line of cars idling and waiting to throw their change in the basket. As with all these other examples, cutting down on cars idling on the highway does a big part to curb emissions. It’s a win-win for you and the environment.

    These are just a sampling of traffic management systems we already see in use throughout the US. In most of these cases, smart technology is allowing city managers to take concepts they’ve put into practice already, but to maximize their effects. And those that have taken the time to make their systems dynamic have seen a big reduction in emissions.

    Even if AVs don’t live up to the spectacular promise of slashing emissions by up to eighty percent – and, again, we believe they will – we’re seeing infrastructure incorporated on roadways throughout the world that are proven to cut emissions: without needing any more validation data, or any studies on how people will adapt to these advances.

    So, no need to hold your breath: it looks like we’ll all be breathing easier.

  • Proving It: Connected Infrastructure & AV Research Vital to a National Strategy

    April 10, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    When envisioning the coming age of autonomous vehicles, it’s easy to get stuck on picturing AVs themselves. Their sophisticated sensors, flashy dashboards, and roomy cabins have created a lot of well-deserved buzz.

    The problem with that is it’s an incomplete vision. While AVs themselves are glamorous, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies are essential to their efficacy. Without V2I tech, the autonomous vehicle dream might not come true.

    Steve Caya is head of production at Roadview — a subsidiary of Mandli Communications, which specializes in geospatial mapping of transportation infrastructure. The field work he and others at the company have done over the years has underscored the need for V2I tech, he says.

    His take: “just as human drivers require visual and auditory cues to ensure a safe journey, driverless cars will need vast amounts of vehicle-to-infrastructure communications data to understand their world.”

    Welcome to the era of V2I, where the technology outside the car is as critical as the technology inside the car.

    Defining the coming age this way allows us to stress what needs to be done to prepare the way for autonomous vehicles. And we can put that in simple terms: funding for the AV proving grounds.

    President Trump has promised to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over the next 10 years. That sounds promising. And it sets him up for an easy policy victory: funding for infrastructure that includes V2I is a smart, forward-looking investment. It leads to a new age of productivity and safety in transportation. So it’s an easy chip shot for the President — right?

    Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Even if the President laid out the perfect infrastructure bill, he still would need Congress to vote it into law. And Congress uses separate authorizing legislation for each category of infrastructure. There’s surface transportation, air transportation, water resources, telecommunications, and energy — to name a few. Congressional committees mirror this stratified approach.

    The result, not to mince words, is trench warfare. Adie Tomer, a Metropolitan Policy Fellow at the Brookings Institute wrote: “more than half a dozen committees in each chamber [claim] at least some responsibility for infrastructure design and oversight,” with each sector gunning for its planning ambitions, construction methods, and funding streams.

    So it should come as no surprise that the US does not have a single, comprehensive infrastructure strategy — let alone a plan to fund it. Up until now, it’s never existed. “Developing a single ‘infrastructure bill’ would require a Congressional Tower of Babel,” Tomer continued.

    That said, in spite of popular belief, sometimes Congress does actually break new ground to get things done. And they made a great first step toward that recently.

    On April 7th, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) led a bipartisan group in the U.S. Senate — which included Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) — in calling for increased funding to support the advancement of connected and automated vehicle technologies. This appeal took the form of a letter to the Chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

    The letter asked Congress to appropriate funding for CAV technologies’ development and testing at the various AV proving ground sites across the US. This is timely and appropriate. Before the recent designation of the proving-ground sites by the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were no national testing facilities whatsoever for testing AV tech.

    That’s right: none. And while they are in critical need of funding, the AV proving ground sites are ideal locations to carry out the huge amount of necessary testing. After all, the promise of autonomous vehicles, in sum, is a car accurately performing safety-critical driving functions in a defined scenario, such as a driverless-car-only roadway. The proving grounds sites are therefore a huge opportunity: where else could AVs and V2I technology, and the interactions between them, be tested safely in the exact sort of environment for which they’re designed?

    The Senators understand the importance of the proving grounds. They wrote: “connected and automated vehicles are going to be developed abroad if we do not take the lead in making sure these technologies are advanced right here in the United States.” Recent investments by Chinese firms in AV start-ups certainly bear this out.

    “Identifying and selecting these initial proving grounds was a crucial first step, but the USDOT must now be given the resources to work quickly to ensure that testing and evaluation at these facilities can begin as soon as possible,” the letter continued.

    These Senators actually get it — quite refreshing. They understand that V2I and AV technologies go hand-in-hand. They know these proving grounds sites, which generally bring together research institutions and tech companies, are key to building a national strategy around integrating this technology. And they can see that time is of the essence if the US is to lead the way for the AV revolution.

    Steve Caya said he’s excited, along with the rest of the company, about the partnership. “There are significant challenges on the road ahead,” he said, “but testing and researching this revolutionary technology is imperative, and we’re glad to be taking part in it.”

    After all, this technology could prevent 90 percent of all traffic fatalities. So while Congress dukes it out in the trenches, the real action lies in these proving grounds. We hope Congress is serious about developing a national smart infrastructure strategy to support AV tech. And, with optimism on that front, we applaud the bipartisan group of Senators calling for funding the proving grounds. It’s not a bad start, and we hope the rest of the government is listening.

  • Atlanta Bridge Crisis: A Plea For Federal Infrastructure Investment

    April 9, 2017 Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology and Digital Culture Editor

    “It’s bad news — you’re going to have to drive around the sun, practically, to get around the city.”

    That’s how an Atlanta resident described the effect of the recent fire on I-85, a section of highway just a few miles north of downtown that resulted in a bridge collapse and a miles-long highway closure. Having lived in Atlanta, not far from the interchange in question, I winced when I heard that. If an Atlanta driver is using hyperbole of that intensity about traffic congestion, it’s a very bad sign.

    The week after I moved out of Atlanta following a couple of years living there, a light snow storm forced traffic to a dead stop on I-85. It was big news a few years ago. People abandoned their cars by the side of the road and walked home. For anyone who recalls that incident, it’s clear that the bridge collapse is not just an unfortunate accident, it’s a crisis dropping to an even deeper level.

    It’ll take 6 months to a year to rebuild the bridge and reopen that section of I-85. And since there are few alternatives for the millions of people that commute from the Atlanta suburbs north of the city into downtown every day, it’s causing massive delays in a city that already is close to the top of the congestion charts. There are surprisingly few alternate routes for getting around the city — I-85 is the main road for commuters coming in from the suburbs to work — and what few there are now jammed with traffic like never before. The I-85 closure in Atlanta is going to cause major waste problems for businesses and workers all throughout the metro area.

    The problem here extends far beyond the bridge fire and its collapse. It’s rather like the straw that broke the brace applied in desperation to the camel’s back. Atlanta’s traffic problems were already an emergency and have been for years. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias recently ran a piece arguing that the bridge collapse merely “highlights” the “regional transportation planning disaster” that is the City of Atlanta.

    He’s right. And the problem isn’t Atlanta’s alone. For many southern cities, Atlanta is a nightmare vision of the future. That’s because it’s the biggest and busiest of a number of cities that have become sprawling as their populations swell. I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. When I was born in 1983, the population was somewhere around 200,000 people. Today, the Raleigh Metropolitan Statistical Area has an estimated population of over 1.3 million. Add neighboring Durham and Chapel Hill into the mix (which comprises an area of relative size equivalence to the Atlanta Metro area), and it’s over 2 million people.

    That’s still a far cry from the Atlanta Metro’s’ 5.7 million residents, but the growth of areas like Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill has been so swift, and with zoning so similar to Atlanta’s, there are several parts in the South where people shake their heads sadly and say “looks like we’re going to be the next Atlanta.” Sprawl has become the model for “urban planning” throughout the southeast. Regional planning seems nonexistent as suburb after suburb is tacked on and begins to boom, each one further out than the last from the urban center, where most people out in the suburbs work.

    Yglesias points out something crucial to understanding the problem when he cites the failure of the 2012 referendum that would have imposed a one-cent-per-gallon gas tax for use in repairing and expanding roadway infrastructure in Atlanta. A critical need for a city of Atlanta’s size, existing as it does in a state that is anywhere between 48th-50th in per capita highway spending.

    That measure was struck down convincingly, 65-35, split entirely by suburban vs urban lines. For people in the suburbs, the traffic is a nuisance, but it’s ultimately not close to home and not, in their minds, their problem. For people in the urban center, traffic is a massive disruption in a person’s daily life, and severely limits the mobility of those without a car, since Atlanta’s sub-par public transit is slowed considerably — limiting the range of options for a person to find work.

    MARTA, Atlanta’s public transit system, is famously insufficient and inefficient. MARTA stops are far-flung and there aren’t enough of them — and good luck trying to find buses or trains that are anywhere close to being on schedule. Park-and-ride lots work as a solution for some people, but that, of course, involves owning a car.

    There are current and historical reasons behind MARTA’s inefficiency. Just like the roads that were planned on the fly as the city went along, MARTA had to come together quickly to make up for lost time, and its coverage reflects an earlier version of the Atlanta metro area, with plenty of unserved regions. This is because of the city’s initial refusal to — you guessed it — pass a referendum to create it. During the civil rights era, MARTA was as much a race-based political football as it was a planned system for public transit. Just like the 2012 referendum, those that had less of a need for MARTA said “not my problem” and voted against it.

    And today, the state invests woefully little in public transit. Georgia spends 55 cents per person yearly on public transit. Massachusetts, by contrast, spends $376 per person. There is simply no money available to improve it.

    Which is the problem that Atlanta now faces with the bridge collapse and highway closure. Having voted down all referenda that would have given the city a coffer from which to repair roads and infrastructure, Atlanta has no good option. Federal emergency funds were released after the collapse, and the Governor said it was enough for the short-term fix (on a very long projected work schedule) but not for a long-term solution.

    That means the bridge, once repaired, will likely be worse off than it was before the fire. It’s worth noting that when federal funds are provided to states for transit emergencies like this one, the money usually winds up well spent. It’s just that those funds are limited and partly emergency-based.

    This is an untenable situation. The stratification of wealth in Atlanta is exacerbated by this problem. Cars sitting in traffic are adding excessive carbon to the atmosphere, and businesses are losing money as people spend more time sitting in traffic. And other cities are close behind. So there needs to be a solution — before this problem gets so bad that people begin to leave these cities in droves.

    I want to see communities making smart choices about modernizing their infrastructure. I wish this could be left in the hands of the Atlanta voter. But this suburb versus urban voter showdown seems here to stay, at least for now. It’s hard to change several million minds all at once.

    The logical response, in view of local voter deadlock, is a federal investment in infrastructure. We know the state government has already made good use of what funds they’ve received, and we should trust them to do this again with money earmarked for infrastructure.

    For the suburban commuters to see the value of their approving a measure like the one that failed in 2012, they have to see transportation funds in action. My hope is that the federal government does more than just support short-term fixes to the bridge, and instead makes a big investment in U.S. infrastructure across the board. It’s essential to our productivity and, for many citizens, is literally a life-or-death issue.

    Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

  • Bi-partisan support in the Senate for AV/CV funding. Thank you to our Senator Tammy Baldwin!

    April 7, 2017 Jonathan Riehl, Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds

    Peters, Tillis Lead Colleagues in Calling for Funding to Advance Self-Driving Vehicles

    USDOT Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds Will Serve as Hubs for Developing Advanced Automotive Technologies

    April 7, 2017, Washington, DC

    U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) today led a bipartisan group of their Senate colleagues in a letter calling for increased funding to support the advancement of connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technologies. The letter specifically calls for Congress to appropriate funding for the safe development and testing of CAV technologies at U.S Department of Transportation (USDOT) federally-designated proving grounds. The letter was sent to Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI).

    “The auto industry is in the midst of a seismic technological shift that will revolutionize the transportation of people and goods in our lifetime. Connected and self-driving cars can reduce dramatically the more than 35,000 lives lost on our roads and highways every year and fundamentally transform the way we get around,” wrote the Senators.

    “Connected and automated vehicles are going to be developed abroad if we do not take the lead in making sure these technologies are advanced right here in the United States,” the Senators continued. “Identifying and selecting these initial proving grounds was a crucial first step, but USDOT must now be given the resources to work quickly to ensure that testing and evaluation at these facilities can begin as soon as possible.”

    Connected and automated vehicle technologies have the potential to reduce traffic accidents, save thousands of lives lost on American roads each year, and ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of groundbreaking automotive innovation. Last year, at Senator Peters’ urging, USDOT opened a competition to designate national testing facilities for advanced automotive technologies. In January, USDOT named ten facilities across the country as federally-designated proving grounds for the development of automated vehicles. Prior to these designations, there was no national testing facility in the United States for CAV technologies.

    The designees include:

    • American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run in Ypsilanti, MI
    • City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
    • Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
    • U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center in Aberdeen, MD
    • Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) & GoMentum Station
    • San Diego Association of Governments
    • Iowa City Area Development Group
    • Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds / University of Wisconsin-Madison
    • Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
    • North Carolina Turnpike Authority

    The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

    A copy of the letter is available here.

    Source: United States Senator for Michigan Gary Peters

  • Tractors, Hackers, and Other Factors: The Necessity of Neutral Third Parties in the AV Realm

    April 3, 2017 Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology and Digital Culture Editor

    When you imagine a farmer going about his workday, you probably envision some sort of bucolic series of tasks: milking cows, tilling soil, sowing seeds.

    It’s a pretty safe bet that you wouldn’t imagine that farmer scouring subscription-only internet forums to find someone selling Ukrainian software that will help him hack his tractor. But that’s what’s happening today, according to a recent news report from Motherboard. In fact, the report says, it’s becoming so prevalent that there’s a “thriving black market” dedicated to the creation and sale of hacked tractor firmware. Just as the farmer supports his family based on his yearly crop yield, there are presumably Ukrainian families out there putting food on the table based on how many tractors their breadwinner managed to hack that month.

    In the AV industry, there remain big questions about how everything is going to work. Over the past few months, car manufacturers have made big investments in AV tech, and that could be a very good thing: these companies have the money and the expertise needed to run the sort of tests that will get us closer to being able to roll out the next generation of vehicles safely. But some recent history –- the VW emissions scandal comes to mind –- suggests that we need to be careful not to put all our trust into one group.

    Which brings us back to the Ukrainian tractor-hack. Farmers are saying they’re forced to go this route for a simple reason: John Deere, a major manufacturer of tractors that supplies the majority of farmers in the U.S., has recently updated their license agreement to stipulate that farmers must have all repairs done by mechanics that work for the manufacturer. According to one farmer, “you want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part.” In other words, without the hacked firmware, farmers are having to pay far more for repairs than their budgets allow.

    That’s why the Ukrainian-firmware story is a cautionary tale for those of us interested in the safe rollout of autonomous vehicles. This problem could have been avoided if there were a system with a strong regulatory framework. A neutral third party would obviously have seen a company using its popularity to develop a monopoly on servicing vehicles. Instead, farmers are addressing the Nebraska state legislature, pleading for intervention.

    While we surely want to see manufacturers involved and invested in the development of AV tech, and we want to ensure that it’s a profitable business for everyone involved, we cannot trust any single company or conglomerate to handle the specifics of how it all works on its own. There must be a system where neutral third parties vet the process. Otherwise, we risk car companies gaming the system for profit, putting lives and potentially the viability of the industry at risk. This is not a knock on car companies, or companies in general. They are essential to the development of AVs. But because there’s a lot of money to be made in this field, we must ensure that profit motive doesn’t trump safety at any point in the process.

    A couple of examples of concerns related to this point. First, there’s security. These tractors can be hacked by a program on a USB stick. This is not a good look for the AV community, when one of our most-predicted downfalls has to do with hackers taking over vehicles at will. The safety and security of the systems will have to be thoroughly vetted. Security flaws in devices have been regularly reported as the tech industry has boomed. That’s partly because a security flaw may never be noticed and breached, and even if so, it’s not going to hurt the sale of a particular piece of technology unless it becomes a problem quickly, as the product is being rolled out.

    And then there’s the data that will be collected by AVs as they hit the road. They won’t just be building maps, they’ll also collect data on themselves, their own performance and accuracy. Without a third-party auditor, what’s to stop a manufacturer from editing or just not reporting data that might hurt their brand? We’d like to think they would, on an ethical basis, be fully open and revealing with their data. But the adage “trust but verify” comes to mind. This is why we have regulatory groups all over the country – when there’s a profit motive involved, everything needs independent verification. And even if companies fully divulge all data to DOTs, there would need to be a group that could ensure its quality. If a group specializing in data quality saw that a particular car, or a particular navigation system, was consistently producing below-average data, they could allow the manufacturers to use that information to improve the product — thus heading off potential liability issues down the road.

    Businesses moving into the field of independent verification of data quality and security seems like the most logical course of action. It would benefit everyone –- state governments wouldn’t have to spend inordinate amounts of money to hire experts to get it done, insurance companies would know in advance of any issues and could adapt their algorithms accordingly, vehicle and sensor manufacturers could be warned of problems with their equipment.

    And Ukrainian hackers would have to hope tractor manufacturers didn’t notice.

    Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

  • Cutting the Costs of Congestion

    April 3, 2017 Steve Caya, GTiMA Board Member

    Does sitting in gridlocked rush-hour traffic seem worth $124 billion a year to you?

    That’s the yearly cost of traffic congestion, according to Forbes’ coverage of a 2014 study by INRIX and the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Yes, you read that right. Not only is sitting in traffic a hassle for just about every individual that drives a car in the United States, it comes at a tremendous price.

    The study breaks down the wasted money into two categories. Direct losses, which arise from wasted fuel, harm to the environment, and the loss of time devoted to productivity. And indirect losses arising from the extra expenses posed to businesses. It’s more expensive to transport goods, attend meetings and conduct business in congested areas. Businesses, of course, pass that cost on to consumers.

    $124 billion is such a huge number, it invites some perspective. That’s more than what the U.S. government spends every year on transportation. Or on housing. Or on protecting the environment, scientific research, and tending to international affairs combined. Given the necessity of these programs, this large chunk of GDP disappearing every year for no tangible benefit isn’t just an annoying waste. It’s a tragic loss of badly-needed money, leaked minute-by-minute in traffic jams, every day, every year.

    There’s good news: there is a solution. Experts tell us that AVs could reduce congestion by 80 percent or more. They’d be able to do this through vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Humans, of course, lack the ability to be in constant contact with other nearby drivers in traffic. As a result, moving through a traffic jam is quite inefficient. The majority of time wasted happens after the clearance of blockage ahead. There’s a start-stop chain effect as individual drivers recognize it’s safe to move forward. A few seconds here and there as each car in line starts to move on a badly congested highway adds up. Cars that communicate with one another can know, simultaneously, that it’s time to move and begin accelerating at the same rate as a unit – and that alone would end the traffic jam as we know it.

    Bottom line, we’re not equipped, as AVs are, with sensors that allow us to see through visual obstacles to assess whatever’s ahead. We’re not in touch with other drivers. And even if we somehow were, it’d still be impossible for drivers to act with the precision necessary to move through slowly-unraveling traffic jams. The precision of movement promised by AVs acting in concert has countless benefits.

    But wait, there’s even more good news: we don’t have to wait for the AV revolution. Because there is a lot to figure out when it comes to the cloud-based communication AVs will use, AVs are not likely to comprise the majority of cars on the road. Thus, they’re not a realistic fix in the short term. Luckily, smart cities and data collection specialists have roles to play as well. According to the Forbes coverage of the congestion waste study, “just as online traffic is managed through routers and optimized, traffic on the roadways could be better-managed and optimized through better data, which in turn would lead to dynamic traffic signal timing, dynamic high-occupancy vehicle lanes, congestion-based pricing.”

    That’s right, real-time data collection would make a big difference in the battle against congestion. Satellite navigation systems, GPS in cars and trucks, information gathered by cellular carriers, and devoted smartphone applications can all provide layers of data which, once aggregated, can help dynamic infrastructure function at a level which would offset a large portion of total congestion.

    As an example, Forbes’ coverage noted that Los Angeles – which has the dubious distinction of accounting for nearly 20 percent of the USA’s total congestion costs – recently took a stab at using data to cut congestion. They “used real traffic data to optimize the traffic signal timing on more than 10,000 traffic signals.” But one of the experts who conducted the study wasn’t satisfied with this effort, simply because it relied on static data. “What you really want is dynamic data, so that the traffic signals across a city could change dynamically in terms of intervals to better move traffic around a network,” the expert said.

    So bottom line, while AVs show promise in the long run, smart infrastructure seemingly show promise in the short run. Further investment in the Internet of Everything and a smarter approach to data mapping and management are things we can do now. If we do, we’ll see a steady decline in congestion — and as a result, a rise in productivity and a decline in our carbon footprint, and household budgets will get some direly-needed relief as less money winds up going to gas. We still have many advances yet to make in clearing the way for the AV revolution, but investing in smart infrastructure would be a heck of a good start.

    It reminds me of the old saying: “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” In this case, which set of benefits will lead to the next set of benefits – smart infrastructure or AVs?

    I say who cares, give me my scrambled eggs.

  • Autonomous Vehicles and Opportunity

    March 31, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    America is the land of opportunity – unless you can’t afford to buy a car and don’t live in a city that has made significant investments in public transit.

    In that case, it’s the land of inescapable poverty for millions of citizens.

    According to a 2015 New York Times analysis of an ongoing Harvard study, “commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty … and building a better life.” The study determined that, on average, the longer a person’s commute, the lower the pay that person will earn for their time.

    To appreciate how serious this problem is, it would help to know these facts: access to reliable and affordable transportation is a bigger factor in building a better life for oneself than crime, test scores in schools, or living in a two-parent home. When certain politicians blame a poor community’s struggles on these things and leave out transportation, they’re mistaken.

    It’s pretty simple when you think about it. Imagine you live in the inner city as a person in poverty. Most of your neighbors are also poor. You rely on a bus system that only has a few stops throughout the city and that sometimes takes hours to move you just a few miles, between bus changes and unplanned delays. So you can really only make it to a job somewhere that’s within a few miles of where you live. That distance isn’t likely to to be far enough to get you to work in a more affluent area. So your options are limited to low-paying jobs. Want to go to school, improve your credentials, find a new career? Good luck getting to campus for night school when you already spend half the night riding a series of buses back to your neighborhood.

    If that’s not bad enough, here’s the salt in the wound: if you are in this situation to begin with, counting on unreliable mass transit for your commute, you’re spending a higher percentage of your net income on transportation than someone who works a higher-paying job and drives a car to work. It’s simply unfair and unjust, and does not reflect the ideals the nation was founded upon.
    But there is hope.

    A big knock on AVs has been that they’re going to be too expensive, and the tech itself will be the province of the wealthy. That’s a false premise. People won’t need to own AVs, necessarily, to reap their benefits.

    Cabs cost a lot of money for one simple reason: the drivers. People driving cabs for a living need to be paid a living wage for their work, or there would be no cabs. And the same goes for city buses. Bus drivers must be paid too. When only a small percentage of a city is using the bus system, the city is drawing on a pretty limited source of income from fares, and so the rates climb higher and higher.

    But in a fully autonomous vehicle, people could ride-share for a fraction of the cost of a bus ticket, and thus make it to their destination – door to door, no vehicle changes or long walks required – in an amount of time the average person would deem reasonable for a commute. In cities where ride-shares from companies like Uber have been ongoing for a while now, the cost, even with a driver, is around a quarter of what a taxi would have cost. When there’s no need for a driver, that price is predicted to drop even more.

    The same goes for buses. As buses become more reliable as a result of automation, they’ll be able to cover more ground and move more quickly. They’ll have to stay competitive with private companies offering ride-shares, and the massive reduction in overhead in terms of bus driver salaries will allow them to price their services even lower.

    The result of this increased mobility could be huge. The Harvard study tracked kids in the 1980s and 90s whose families moved to areas with better public transit, and the results were astounding: the average kid who moved ended up earning about ten percent more, on average, than those who didn’t. That number would be higher, by the way, if it only focused on kids who moved early in their childhoods – the younger the child was when moved to an area with easier access to educational and extracurricular opportunities, the better off they were as adults.

    So AVs don’t just offer improvements to safety, even though if you searched a news database for AV benefits, you’d find mostly safety articles. By increasing mobility for the economically disadvantaged, they have the promise of bringing the American dream in reach for millions of people. Now that is good news.

  • Choosing How to Use Our Land

    March 28, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    Next time you’re heading out of a big shopping center or a mall, scanning the endless sea of cars and trying to remember where you parked, take a moment to picture something completely different: a narrow drop-off/pick up lane, and beyond it, a tranquil, leafy park.

    For now, you’re stuck with the parking lot. But that could change – this is a story about how we, as a community, choose to use our land.

    A 2014 study of six cities conducted by UConn, in partnership with the State Smart Transportation Initiative, showed that “when measuring the amount of space given to parking … tax revenues for that real estate tend to be much lower than for other types of development.”

    There’s one simple reason for that. Each and every parking spot in a city is taking up space that otherwise could be occupied by business, homes, schools. The study puts this in staggering economic terms. In Hartford, Conn., whose zeal for parking lot growth is about on par with the average American city, every individual parking space represents $1,200 lost yearly in potential tax revenue.

    The total cost of parking spaces to Hartford? $50 million per year. This in a city where all downtown real estate brings in $75 million in municipal revenues. Imagine what cities would be able to do with an infusion of 66% extra revenue, if only all those parking spaces weren’t necessary.

    Making matters worse, car-dependent communities devote more land to parking than you might expect. A 2007 Purdue study found that “the total area devoted to parking in a midsize Midwestern county … outnumbered resident drivers 3-to-1.” That’s right — in an average county, for every car, whether it’s on the road or not, there are three parking spots out there waiting for it. A Planetizen analysis of the Purdue study, among other studies, points out that “a city must devote between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet per automobile.”

    When that’s all tallied up, Planitzen writer Todd Litman says, land used for parking “exceeds the amount of land devoted to housing per capita for moderate to high development densities … and is far more land than most urban neighborhoods devote to public parks.”

    Of course, if we slashed the amount of land devoted to parking in cities, we’d simply be creating massive congestion problems as people circled blocks looking for somewhere to park. The surprising amount of waste imposed by parking lots is one of many burdens on society imposed by car culture.

    And this is yet another externality that AVs promise to offset. With the advent of AV tech, and its steady evolution over the next decade or two, the need for parking lots will decrease dramatically. Experts agree that AVs will eventually be safe enough to be trusted to park themselves in designated lots — in much tighter confines, without the need for people to enter or exit their cars upon parking — a few miles outside of a city after dropping you off at an area close to the entrance of the mall. When you’re ready to leave, you’d simply summon it with your smartphone and it would dutifully return to carry you to your next destination.

    This advance couldn’t come at a more opportune time. The UN recently estimated that by 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in urban centers across the globe. Under the current circumstances, if just one billion of those people drive a car, that would necessitate three billion new parking spaces. This is obviously untenable, especially considering cities will need to add housing and infrastructure to fit all the newcomers.

    So while hunting for your car in a gigantic parking lot in a shopping mall is annoying and visually unappealing, it’s just a tiny piece of a mounting global emergency. Luckily for us, the solution – to this, along with other crises imposed by car culture – is a top priority of tech researchers and car manufacturers across the globe. If AV tech is rolled out safely and responsibly, this sprawling predicament will soon become a thing of the past.

  • “Algorithm Aversion” and Scary Headlines

    March 28, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    If it bleeds, it leads.

    That’s the long-accepted dictum of how a news organization makes its biggest profit margin. News outlets provide an essential public service, but they must survive as businesses as well. Psychology Today noted this trend, saying that “news is a money-making industry, one that doesn’t always make the goal to report the facts accurately.”

    Perhaps that’s why the Washington Post’s science section recently ran an article — the meat of which ended up being an exploration of why public fears of autonomous vehicles (AVs) are irrational — under the headline “Will the Public Accept the Fatal Mistakes of Self-Driving Cars?”

    The article explored the idea of “algorithm aversion,” which, according to the Post and its sources, is the idea that “people are … more inclined to forgive mistakes by humans than machines.” The story cites public anxieties about refrigerators in the 1920s as a parallel example to current concerns about AVs, noting that “although scientists understood that cold storage could cut down on food-borne illnesses, reports of refrigeration equipment catching fire or leaking toxic gas made the public wary.”

    All true, and a pertinent parallel. So why did the article need to begin with the line “How many people could self-driving cars kill before we would no longer tolerate them?” It might grab a reader’s attention, but the attention-grabbing part essentially represents the direct opposite of what the piece is about. This question is discarded and never addressed as the article proceeds. What purpose does it serve other than to stoke fear and get clicks?

    Other recent articles in the pages of the Post follow this trend. When Uber rolled out its self-driving test back in September, the paper covered it. Buried in the article were some important facts: in the seventh paragraph, the writer mentioned that the vehicles “will have two trained safety drivers on each ride.” The twentieth paragraph — third from the bottom — briefly described Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto’s first ride in one of the Uber vehicles, of which he said “There was no time I was fearful or worried … I’m more worried when I’m on the road with an 18-year-old who is learning how to drive.”

    That all sounds pretty good — so why did that article need the headline “Why Uber is Turning The Streets of a U.S. City into its Laboratory”? Or, in another article, why refer to voluntary Uber AV passengers as “guinea pigs”? A whole city reduced to an experimental lab? Humans as powerless and expendable as test-subject “guinea pigs”? Sounds positively dystopian. But, to anyone that knows about AV tech, it also sounds ludicrous and dramatically overstated.

    Elon Musk weighed in on this issue back in October, saying “if, in writing some article that’s negative, you effectively dissuade people from using an autonomous vehicle, you’re killing people. Next question.” That’s a big statement — but unfortunately, it’s correct.

    The fact of the matter is that AVs promise a level of safety that is currently impossible in our world of error-prone human drivers. The Post has quoted quite a few experts in many articles to that effect. But in order to address the logical fallacy of “algorithm aversion,” do they really need to sell the story using attention-grabbing headlines and scare quotes? The stakes are too high to be using frightening language.

    Because the real “bleeding” that should “lead” are facts that, while far more dramatic than the material being covered in the AV realm, are perhaps not “news”, since they’ve been known for many years now. Each year, over 35,000 people die in car accidents. A full third of these come from intoxicated drivers. Another third are the result of reckless speeding. Distracted drivers represent another twelve percent. Human error is the cause of 94% of auto-related deaths. And across all modes of transport, these automobile deaths represent 95% of total fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And perhaps one reason the total number of airplane and watercraft deaths are in the three-digit range instead of deca-thousands is that each relies on some degree of automation to reduce human error.

    If the Washington Post is actually concerned about safety, perhaps it should start covering the 92 people killed every day in this country as a result of human error behind the wheel. They wouldn’t even need clever turns of phrase or headlines that don’t correspond to the information below them: the number itself is scary enough on its own.

    Apparently “algorithm aversion” leads us to forgive human error more than we do machine error. But does that make it right?

  • What We Can and Cannot Say About the Tesla Crash

    March 21, 2017 Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

    Last year, the National Highway Safety Transportation Association (NHSTA) conducted an investigation of Tesla’s Autopilot Software following a deadly, May 7, Model S. accident in Williston, Florida. The accident – which killed the car’s driver – was the first in a series of high-profile AV accidents, involving a variety of AV manufacturers, which skyrocketed public concern about the safety of autonomous vehicles.

    Although the accidents are tragic, it is still premature to draw any conclusions about AV safety.

    Statistically speaking, it is not yet possible to make a clear comparison between the safety of autonomous vehicles and human-driven vehicles. As of July 2016, the most autonomous miles driven by any developer — which turns out to be Tesla — was about 1.3 million. According to Susan M. Paddock, a senior statistician at RAND and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, “this does not come close to the level of driving that is needed to calculate safety rates. Even if autonomous vehicle fleets are driven 10 million miles, one still would not be able to draw statistical conclusions about safety and reliability.”

    With so few AV miles driven, experts can’t estimate the impact AVs would have on, for instance, the 2.3 million car-related injuries reported in 2013, of which 32,719 resulted in deaths. That’s one fatality per 100 million miles driven.

    According to the NHSTA, human errors such as driving too fast, alcohol impairment, distraction, and fatigue are the cause of more than 90 percent of automobile crashes. While it is safe to say that an autonomous vehicle is not likely to get drunk or sleepy, we are still in the data collection phase of evaluating the overall safety of these autonomous systems.

    That said, it would also be premature to draw conclusions that discredit the potential of this autonomous technology.

    After all, we’ve been here before. Take a look at the airline industry: in the short history of airline safety, the first great turning point occurred in the 1950s with the introduction of the jet engine, which was far more reliable than the behemoth piston-engine that preceded it. The second turning point followed with advances in sensor technology, computing, and artificial intelligence: like the introduction of GPS, aircraft avoidance systems and ground-proximity alarms in the 1970s and ‘80s.

    Today, an aircraft is generally flown by a computer autopilot that tracks its position using motion sensors and dead reckoning, corrected as necessary with GPS. Software systems may even be used to land commercial aircraft. In a recent survey of airline pilots, those operating Boeing 777s on a typical flight reported spending just seven minutes manually piloting their planes; pilots operating Airbus planes spend half that time.

    The safety outcomes of commercial airline automation have been tremendous. The year 2015 marks the safest year of airplane travel to date. The chances of dying on any given flight with one of the world’s major airlines are just one in 4.7 million; in any given year, you have a higher chance of getting struck by lightning, at one in 1.9 million. In the 1970s, an average of 68 commercial planes crashed each year. Last year, of the total 33.4 million flights, only 21 crashed.

    As aviation safety expert Carl Rochelle puts it, “the most dangerous part of your airline flight is the trip to the airport.”

    So how did flying become so safe?

    The unfortunate reality is that the industry learned a great deal from its failures, most notably from its crashes. By examining downed plane wreckages and black-box recorders, they engineered solutions to the problems.

    In the wake of the deadly Tesla accident, what we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor-trailer took a left-hand turn across the road, perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver seemed to notice the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky. The brake was never applied.

    Sadly, in this case, the technology appears to have failed. But let’s not allow unsubstantiated fear about the overall safety of autonomous vehicles dictate how we move forward. Instead, let’s do what we’ve always done: embrace innovation and look for technology-based solutions that captivate our imaginations while ensuring that safety is the number one priority.