Con­nected cars show prom­ise

Ve­hi­cles that com­mu­ni­cate with other cars and the en­vi­ron­ment may re­duce crashes

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Z. An­drew Farkas and Hyeon-Shic Shin Z. An­drew Farkas is a pro­fes­sor at Mor­gan State Uni­ver­sity and di­rec­tor of its Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Cen­ter; his email is an­drew.farkas@mor­gan.edu. Hyeon-Shic Shin is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in Mor­gan’s school of a

Last week, the CEO of Tesla Mo­tors an­nounced plans to pro­duce, by the end of next year, a car that can drive it­self across coun­try and also said that his com­pany has be­gun equip­ping all new ve­hi­cles with self­driv­ing hard­ware. It’s an ag­gres­sive and op­ti­mistic ef­fort, es­pe­cially given the many ob­sta­cles in the way of re­al­iz­ing au­ton­o­mous cars, in­clud­ing to­day’s tech­nol­ogy, safety reg­u­la­tions, cost to buy­ers, public in­ter­est and laws. We be­lieve it will take an­other decade or two — or more — be­fore such cars are on the road­ways in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers.

Many driv­ers will re­sist be­ing herded into au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. From our ex­pe­ri­ence, it seems driv­ers in the Bal­ti­more area would likely not wish to ride in an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle obey­ing a 55 mile per hour speed limit, and it’s un­likely the gov­ern­ment or the in­sur­ance in­dus­try would sup­port pro­gram­ming ve­hi­cles to break the speed limit. Ques­tions of li­a­bil­ity in a crash are also likely to de­ter early adopters. (Note: We don’t call them “ac­ci­dents,” and nei­ther should you.) And how will au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles fac­ing a crash sce­nario re­act? Will they be pro­grammed to cal­cu­late the likely sever­ity of dam­age when choos­ing between ac­tions?

Man­ag­ing a road net­work with mixed driver-op­er­ated and au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles will be com­pli­cated, and a ma­jor re­duc­tion in crashes — most of which are caused by hu­man er­ror — will not hap­pen un­til just about all ve­hi­cles are au­ton­o­mous or con­nected. Con­nected ve­hi­cles (CV) are not au­ton­o­mous, but they do com­mu­ni­cate with each other and the road­way, com­pen­sat­ing for a dis­tracted driver. They could pro­vide a help­ful in­ter­me­di­ate step to full au­ton­omy. The Na­tional High­way Trans­porta­tion Safety Al­liance al­ready es­ti­mates that such con­nected cars could re­duce crashes by 80 per­cent for non-im­paired op­er­a­tors, sav­ing many lives. Such a re­duc­tion in crashes will also dras­ti­cally re­duce the re­sult­ing con­ges­tion that fre­quently slows our com­mutes to a crawl.

We and our col­leagues re­cently con­ducted a na­tional on­line sur­vey ask­ing driv­ers, based on their cur­rent knowl­edge of safety tech­nolo­gies, what their ac­cep­tance of and will­ing­ness-to-pay for CV tech­nolo­gies would be. Our sur­vey at­tracted 529 re­sponses, and the analy­ses showed that while con­sumer ac­cep­tance of CV tech­nolo­gies was high, ex­pected prices for the tech­nolo­gies were a sig­nif­i­cant con­straint to­ward pur­chas­ing them.

CV tech­nolo­gies are not yet avail­able for mass con­sump­tion, but sen­sor-based safety tech­nolo­gies are in higher-end ve­hi­cles to­day. Of those tech­nolo­gies, driv­ers con­sid­ered the col­li­sion pack­age (front, side, all-around col­li­sion warn­ing) to have the high­est ap­peal. In­ter­est­ingly, older women and young men ap­pear less at­tracted to CV tech­nolo­gies over­all, per­haps be­cause the ma­ture women are less tech­nol­ogy-ori­ented, and young men tend to be less safe­ty­con­scious than other age groups.

The sur­vey find­ings have im­me­di­ate im­pli­ca­tions re­gard­ing the pro­mo­tion of CV tech­nolo­gies to a di­verse pop­u­la­tion. Price is a se­ri­ous bar­rier to CV tech­nol­ogy pro­lif­er­a­tion, but we ex­pect prices to come down with in­no­va­tion, pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing. The au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try should make low-cost op­tions and com­mon stan­dards a pri­or­ity for more col­li­sion warn­ing tech­nol­ogy in the mar­ket­place. Gov­ern­ment safety agen­cies should show­case CV tech­nolo­gies’ safety ben­e­fits to me­dia that cater to ma­ture women and at fam­ily-ori­ented public events. Agen­cies may want to in­cor­po­rate CV tech­nolo­gies within the var­i­ous safety pro­grams tar­geted to­ward young male driv­ers.

While au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles stim­u­late the imag­i­na­tion, many com­po­nents have to fall in place be­fore we see them in abun­dance on our road­ways. In the in­terim, CV may take us where we need to go and the state should ac­com­mo­date them.

MAR­CIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Mo­tors Inc., in­tro­duced the Model X car at the com­pany’s Cal­i­for­nia head­quar­ters last year. The ve­hi­cle has a semi-au­ton­o­mous au­topi­lot mode. Mr. Musk an­nounced plans this month to de­velop a fully au­ton­o­mous car by the end of next year.

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