Why the path to a safer, self-driving future will not be automatic

Arity and industry experts reflect on CES 2019 Mobility Keynote presentation

One of the most popular events at CES 2019 this year was the ‘The New Mobility Revolution’ panel, focused on the promise of autonomous vehicles and how self-driving technology will transform transportation. It featured executives from Mobileye, Audi AG, Aurora, the National Safety Council in a discussion moderated by Reuters’ Alexandria Sage.

Everyone on the panel agreed that self-driving has the potential to save thousands of lives, but a major challenge to broad-based self-driving adoption is that the public does not feel autonomous vehicles are safe to use. There were several different perspectives from the group on how to increase public awareness and understanding of the safety and efficiency benefits of autonomous vehicles in the future. It was also an opportunity for the panel to highlight their participation in the Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, or PAVE coalition., The industry group was launched earlier in the week at CES to help educate the public and policymakers about the potential of automated vehicles.

After the panel, Arity president Gary Hallgren caught up with Maureen Brown, underwriting and operations manager for the Incubator, Munich Reinsurance America and Life360’s Chris Hulls, to pick their brains about what was discussed in the keynote, as well as some of the biggest mobility trends that they’re seeing today. Below is an edited version of the discussion.

The panel today talked at length about distraction, which is something that all three of our companies have in common.

  • Chris Hulls: All the new tech that’s emerging is similar to the discovery of fire and as we all know, if we didn’t have fire, we would still be stuck in the stone age. In the short term, it’s not going to be perfect (bad things will happen) but building awareness around the benefits technology promises and how to best engage it while driving is the first step. As connectivity grows, we will have a better understanding of what’s happening and how to effectively leverage what’s around us.
  • Maureen Brown: I agree 100 percent on the understanding piece. I think better training is needed on the vehicle’s safety features: specifically, what the features are for and how they work. The dealers selling cars today could do a better job educating consumers on the benefits of these technologies. At Munich Re America we have developed a precheck checklist for our autonomous vehicle clients – when they run a trip, they know what to check before the trip starts, and so on. The aim is for the driver to take proactive steps to protect themselves and others and to ensure the vehicle is working properly before a test run.
  • Gary Hallgren: During the panel, I liked how Mobileye talked about the adoption of Driver Assist technologies were different than the autonomous driving tech. We’re very focused on quantifying distraction behind the wheel. We all know it happens, but the more important question is to quantify the effects. We need to really understand what driver assist features people are using now and which ones are truly effective, so we can get people to use those now. A safer driving experience is not only possible in the future with self-driving cars, but we can make a big impact today.

Let’s step back and ask about the big picture, why should we have self-driving cars and what do they promise for you?

  • Maureen: From my perspective, self-driving cars mean mobility freedom for all people including members of our society who have physical disabilities that prevent them from driving themselves today. Eventually, it will help reduce the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities and billions of dollars paid for claims will be saved by insurance companies and auto insurance policyholders.
  • Chris: It is the next step in the evolution of driving technology. It’s a natural extension of tech becoming all-pervasive, as it continues to evolve and adhere to how people live. People are always looking for solutions to support their way of life and make it easier.
  • Gary: The efficiency aspect of it is the most important part for me. The promise of autonomy is the idea that cars can be spaced closer together and we can maximize the current infrastructure and system by doubling or quadrupling the throughput of today’s roads. The promise of autonomy is efficiency.

What will the impact of autonomy have on how we travel, specifically how we plan, coordinate and move and what do we need to do today to get there?

  • Chris: To echo Gary’s previous point, at Life360 we are all about helping families feel safer and closer together – and we do that through tools that make family life easier and more efficient. Imagine getting into an autonomous car and it already knows where your family is and takes you right to them – no need to enter in directions in your navigation. We need to enable this kind of fluid, frictionless capability.
  • Maureen: To get to that kind of intelligent autonomy, you need companies that are willing to back these new startups. I view that as our role at Munich Reinsurance America. By insuring some of these companies, we are giving them one of the fundamental mechanisms they need to make their ideas a reality.

What is the role of data in the development of autonomous technology and eventually self-driving?

  • Maureen: I’m a New Jersey driver and would probably get a low score on a driver behavior app. I love my car and I leave the Driver Assist features on because I want to know what is happening around me especially in my blind spot because for some reason other drivers like to drive in the blind spot. But from the insurance side, what’s frustrating is that we can’t tell from the VIN the safety features, if any, that are installed in a particular vehicle because the OEMs do not share the data we need to decode the VIN. The customer wants the discount up front, but we can’t get the behavioral data that we need to determine what kind of driver they are.
  • Gary: This is where analytics comes in. Our gut says that people driving in the blind spot or eating, or talking on the phone is a problem, but the data can identify and quantify what we believe to be true, or not true, in these scenarios… It’s the data that can help give safe driving tips today and it’s the data is what will shape how self-driving cars perform in the future.
  • Chris: As you know Gary, Life360 is using Arity today to do this very thing. Using your platform, we can slice and dice our data to help understand certain vehicles and empower drivers with insights to be better on the roads. Data will ultimately do that for autonomy as well.

What are the challenges related to broad user adoption of autonomous vehicles?

  • Gary: In order to encourage mass adoption, like with any technology, there needs to be more than a single solution, like self-driving cars. We need to create an entire autonomous system that works in all areas. More importantly, a system that will allow humans and autonomous drivers to share the road. People will be curious and may be willing to test out self-driving cars, but it will take a number of autonomous rides for them to fully jump in. If the transition period when humans and machine drivers are sharing the road is too hectic, mass adoption will be greatly impacted.
  • Maureen: As this panel pointed out, there are more than enough studies that have shown that people are worried about self-driving cars. While we can make predictions, we really do not know the full potential of autonomy, not only within vehicles but the impact it will have on our lives. There needs to be a massive educational effort, like PAVE, to help consumers understand the benefits of self-driving. It must be focused on what it will do for ‘you’ personally, how it will benefit every aspect of your life – your family, your children, your job, your freedom to get wherever you want to go and get there safely.
  • Chris: I totally agree with Maureen here. We need to highlight the cost and lifestyle benefits as well as the safety component, which will result in people adopting it faster. The demand is there and if the car is there, people will use it.

What do you think we need to do to make driving safer, smarter, now and in the long term?

  • Maureen: In the short term, we have horrific traffic problems in cities like San Francisco and New York City because of the sheer number of vehicles on the road. We do not have the infrastructure to support the number of cars on the road today. We need to develop coordinated solutions to reduce the number of vehicles on the road while at the same time, meet the demands of consumers and develop the infrastructure solutions needed for the future.
  • Gary: People are funny. We all agree carpooling is great FOR YOU, but I’m not going to do it myself. We’re not willing to engage what makes things better because I want what I want for myself and that’s my right. We need to look at the data to understand how people are moving and improve the services that are available today to improve and enrich how we get around now and then build on this understanding to build the right mobility services. The point here is to create things that people will actually use.
  • Chris: I totally agree with Gary. I think that we need to think more about the user, I don’t really hear that much about the user experience with self-driving cars. Now and in the future – transportation needs to be frictionless and easy or people will not use it.
  • Maureen: When you talk to some of the futurists, the vision is that everything is going to be shared. You won’t own anything. I think that will become the reality at some point, but not in the next 30 years. I still think that the sharing economy has several issues to work through until these services become the standard.
  • Chris: To that end, one thing that I wonder is if people are going to drive less and if the need to travel goes down in the future. Remote work is getting easier and more accepted, so the future of our mobility will be different in so many capacities of life, not just self-driving cars.
  • Gary: I really appreciated that every member on the panel today emphasized the need to lessen the hype around automated vehicles. We need to slow down and think deeply about how at both the micro and macro level; how can we make this better. It’s then that people will put their trust in it, as we focus less on the speed at which we get there.

Our goal at Arity is to help shape a future transportation system that is safer, smarter and more useful. It’s affirming to hear that our industry friends feel the same way. It’s also important to realize there is common understanding a self-driving future is far off and will require real commitment and a lot of work. In the meantime, with more transparency around data and the willingness to collaborate, a safer and more efficient future is at our fingertips.

At Arity, we believe that this is a long-term effort that will require real contributions from everyone in transportation, as well as a range of other industries and organizations. Our role is to facilitate and assist everyone and anyone who wants to get involved, please get in touch and let’s figure out how we can work together!

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Arity is a mobility data and analytics company. We provide data-driven solutions to companies invested in transportation, enabling them to deliver mobility services that are smarter, safer, and more economical.