"Autonomous vehicles will worsen congestion in the downtown area"
Traffic troubles, empowering communities and next-generation networking: we bring you this week’s key stories from the world of automated driving!
Contrary to the widely-held belief (or should I say hope? Or expectation?) that automated driving will reduce traffic volume, a report published last week suggested that may not be the case. To use a traffic analogy: this finding is travelling in the contraflow lane.
It’s just one conclusion from the extensive three-year study by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group exploring how autonomous vehicles could reshape the future of urban mobility – using Boston as example (you can find it and many other studies in our database). Having built a sophisticated traffic simulation model of the entire city, researchers state that “Introducing shared AVs will worsen congestion in the downtown area, mostly because these vehicles will be chosen as substitutes for short public transportation trips.” Oh, and that “travel time will increase by 5.5% in downtown Boston.” Bummer.
But it ain’t all bad. Far from it. The study also concludes that on the whole, “shared AVs will reduce the number of vehicles on the streets and reduce overall travel times across the city.” Confusing message? Not really. It simply points to the complexity of the problem. When I touched on the “congestion question” a few weeks ago, I argued that the analysis was too simplistic. This type of honest, finer-grained analysis is exactly what we need to better understand the impact of AVs: even if it’s not what we want to hear.
And anyway, the whole scenario could still be avoided if AVs can be thought of as complementing public transport; integrating into its network – not substituting it. Therein lies the key, and it’s exactly the approach Renault is taking as it prepares to launch a pilot public transportation program using self-driving cars in Rouen, Normandy. The vehicles will operate on three routes within a business park, with 17 stops including one at a tram station. “The goal is to provide mobility solutions in an area to which conventional public transportation services are poorly suited, in a first-mile and last-mile approach,” according to the press release. We haven’t heard much from Renault so far when it comes to automated driving: or from the French front in general actually. Maybe that’s about to change. C’est parti!
Power to the people!
Okay. So maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but a recent move by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is a step in the right direction when it comes to the democratization of automated driving. It and 14 towns and cities in the Greater Boston area signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will open up their roads to autonomous vehicle testing.
The agreement is essentially a “universal application”: it simplifies the process for eager-to-test tech firms and municipalities to work together by which applicants submit certain information to ensure operation without risk to public safety (previous testing experience, ensure a safety driver is in place etc.)
It seems the state wants to give local communities a say when it comes to deployment of the technology – even if it is only at a testing level. As Bryant Walker Smith – one of our ten hidden champions of automated driving – told WIRED: “One of the keys to getting the most out of automated driving will be to empower communities.” I couldn’t agree more.
Setting the standard
The next generation of self-driving cars could generate somewhere in the region of 1GB of data per second through its array of CPUs, sensors, HD cameras, etc. This data needs to move seamlessly throughout the vehicle at lightning speeds. After all, the faster the network, the quicker the vehicle can react and the safer the experience is.
In an effort to speed up the development of such powerful networking, Volkswagen has just formed the Networking for Autonomous Vehicles (NAV) Alliance. It includes suppliers Continental and Bosch, graphics processor designer Nvidia, and Aquantia (a tech component supplier known for its Ethernet transceivers). Not only will the alliance work to develop products that support multi-gig (non-geeks: read really fast!) Ethernet connectivity, it also hopes to set global industry-wide standards for autonomous technologies. And that, for me, is the key.
Standardization is the pathway to interoperability, faster deployment and bolstered safety, since by meeting the standard, a baseline technical threshold is ensured. And once a standard is set and agreed, it’s the warrant for choice since switching is seamlessly possible.
On the other hand, standards are always a battleground. If you control the standard, you control access. Read Android vs. iOS, Windows vs. Linux (plus everything but the kitchen sink), Blu-ray vs. HD DVD and so on. So, let the games begin, may the standard that’s best for the customer win! One thing though is sure in any case: a fragmented market doesn’t help anyone, so it’s a step in the right direction.
So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless),