States announce automated vehicle programs | Government News

Georgia Clark at Government News in Australia reports on Regional Automated Vehicle trials that have been approved for Coffs Harbour and Armidale, NSW. I get quoted

Regional trial a ‘milestone’

The NSW trial has been welcomed by an industry expert who says it indicates that Australia is “making progress” on automated vehicle technology.

David Levinson, professor of transport engineering at the University of Sydney, told Government News that rolling out automated vehicle technology in environments like regional areas has a number of benefits.

“The advantage of places like Coffs Harbour is that it doesn’t have the complexity of Sydney. It’s something more feasible to run now than in a more complex environment. One of the keys is the technology being introduced over time. You can’t throw the technology into a place where it’s not ready,” he said.

Professor Levinson said the trial was a “necessary check point and milestone” for the rollout of automated vehicles both in urban areas and more extensively in regional areas.

Maintaining the roads that the automated vehicles will be travelling on is crucial to the trial’s success and the prospects of such technology in other areas, he argued.

“This is not a random set of regional roads that may be in very poor condition, it’s a very specific series of roads. If you can’t run on these roads you certainly can’t run on roads in worse conditions,” he said.

Professor Levinson said that Australia will see more regional automated vehicle trials before the technology is deployed in other areas.

What will the footpath of the future look like?

I have a new piece up at Foreground on the Future of the Footpath. An excerpt below:

Technological developments will bring changes large and small to urban transport infrastructure over the coming decades, but the most widely felt impacts will be on the humble, low tech footpath.

 

Starship-Robot-Delivery-footpath-1024x523
Starship’s robot delivery service makes use of the footpath, rather than the road. Image: Starship

This article is part of Foreground’s The Street special series

Walking is the most widespread mode of travel, and much of it occurs on footpaths, among the least technologically sophisticated elements of the transport world. Nevertheless, footpaths are far from immune to the technological disruption already besetting transport infrastructure in cities around the world. In the future, footpaths may remain physically similar, made of asphalt, concrete, or brick, but how they are used, and what we know about how they are used, will change – if change isn’t already afoot.

Start with the kerb, the edge of the footpath and the street itself. Kerb space is an extremely valuable asset. …

Read More ….

Uber’s self-driving car killed someone today

Uber’s self-driving car killed someone today. This is terrible tragedy, and in retrospect, it will probably be judged to have been preventible. Future versions of the software will better address the scenario that led to this crash. But mistakes are how people and systems learn, and someone was going to be the first. The victims are scarcely remembered.

A few key points.

  • The safety rate for Uber AVs collectively is now worse than that for human drivers (1.25 pedestrian deaths / 100MVMT) (MVMT = Million vehicle miles traveled) (Uber is at about 1 MVMT, Waymo at about 4MVMT). It will undoubtedly get better.
  • Don’t assume Uber AVs are the same as Waymo or others. Different software, vehicles, sensors, driving protocols, safety cultures. The stats for each will differ.
  • Also we need to see the full investigation (from NHTSA, NTSB).
    • How much victim blaming will there be?
    • Was it just sadly unavoidable?
    • Or was it preventable?
  • The opposition will use this to bang on against AVs while supporters will be quiet for a while.

Hopefully the developers learn something and this type of crash is rare. Other AV makers will take the scenario and run it through their own simulations and field tests.

Still the technology trajectory is strong, and even if the US slows down development, it’s a big world. China won’t slow down development.

How Railways Dealt With The First Notable Fatality:

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway killed former Leader of the House of Commons and cabinet member, William Huskisson during the opening day ceremonies. It was the UKs 2nd significant steam railway and the first that was opened with a big deal with   such publicity. We write in The Transportation Experience

On September 15, 1830, the opening ceremonies for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway were held. The Prime Minster (the Duke of Wellington), Cabinet members, Members of Parliament, and other assorted dignitaries were present. Among those were an MP from Liverpool, and a 60 year old former Leader of the House of Commons and cabinet member, William Huskisson. The dignitaries had been riding on a train pulled by one of Stephenson’s Rockets. Reports differ, but Lady Wilton, an observer on the same train wrote to Fanny Kimble:

The engine had stopped to take a supply of water, and several of the gentlemen in the directors’ carriage had jumped out to look about them. Lord Wilton, Count Bathany, Count Matuscenitz and Mr. Huskisson among the rest were standing talking in the middle of the road, when an engine on the other line, which was parading up and down merely to show its speed, was seen coming down upon them like lightening. The most active of those in peril sprang back into their seats; Lord Wilton saved his life only by rushing behind the Duke’s carriage, and Count Matuscenitz had but just leaped into it, with the engine all but touching his heels as he did so; while poor Mr. Huskisson, less active from the effects of age and ill-health, bewildered, too, by the frantic cries of `Stop the engine! Clear the track!’ that resounded on all sides, completely lost his head, looked helplessly to the right and left, and was instantaneously prostrated by the fatal machine, which dashed down like a thunderbolt upon him, and passed over his leg, smashing and mangling it in the most horrible way.

Stephenson personally helped Huskisson onto a locomotive and traversed 15 miles in 25 minutes (57.9 km/h) to receive medical attention in the nearby town of Eccles. But it was for nought. Huskisson amended his will and died within the hour. (Garfield)

This was not the first death by steam locomotive, it was at least the third, but it was still the most notable. Wikipedia notes

5 December 1821, when a carpenter, David Brook, was walking home from Leeds along the Middleton Railway in a blinding sleet storm. He failed to see or hear an approaching train … and was fatally injured.” — Richard Balkwill; John Marshall (1993). The Guinness Book of Railway Facts and Feats (6th ed.). Guinness. ISBN 0-85112-707-X.

According to parish council records, a woman in Eaglescliffe, Teesside, thought to be a blind beggar, was “killed by the steam machine on the railway” in 1827– “Corrections and clarifications.” The Guardian. 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2009-02-05.

Despite this inauspicious beginning, both passengers and freight services (the latter opened in 1831) were immediate successes.

Up or Out: Travel Demand and Thirty Minute Cities

Adapted from Levinson, D. and Krizek, K. (2017) The End of Traffic and the Future of Access. Network Design Lab. Cross-posted on the ITLS Thinking Outside the Box  blog.

Each technological advance in mobility over the past 200 years increased the size of metropolitan areas. The ability to go faster, either owing to new technologies or more completely deployed and deeply connected networks, allowed people to reach more things in less time. The Underground drove the expansion of London, streetcars did the same for many American cities,[a] while trams and trains made Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane among others, and highways have exploded the size of cities everywhere. Historically, the time saved from mobility gains was reflected mostly in additional distance between home and the workplace, maintaining a stable commuting (home to work) time.

Will autonomous vehicles follow the path well worn by earlier technologies?

Fast, driverless cars that allow their passenger to do things other than steer and brake and find parking impose fewer requirements on the traveler than actively driving the same distance. Decreases in the cost of traveling (i.e., the availability of  safe in-vehicle multitasking) makes travel easier. Faster roads arise because of capacity gains from vehicle automation (due both to closer following distances and narrower lanes, even more practical with narrower vehicles fit to serve the single passenger they usually carry). Easier travel means increases in accessibility and subsequently increases in the spread of development and a greater separation between home and work, (pejoratively, `sprawl’), just as commuter trains today enable exurban living or living in a different city.[b] Autonomous automobility reinforces the disconnected, dendritic suburban street grid and makes transit service that much more difficult (as if low density suburbs weren’t hard enough). People will live farther ‘Out.’

However, concomitant with automation is the emergence of the sharing economy, with at least some people transitioning from today, where the typical Australian owns their own car, to mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) — automated taxis. This is more likely in larger, central cities where taxis are common, auto ownership is already difficult, and parking scarce and expensive. In this world, while the total cost of travel drops as vehicle ownership costs disappear, the cost per trip might rise, as the cost of ownership is allocated to each trip. This reduces travel demand.

Driverless cars which can be summoned on-demand allow people to avoid vehicle ownership altogether. This reduces vehicle travel, as people will pay more to rent by the minute than exploit the sunk costs of vehicular ownership. By saving total expenditures on transport, more funds are available to pay for rent in cities, and more trips are by walk, bike, and transit. People who seek the set of urban amenities (entertainment, restaurants, a larger dating pool) will find these amenities increasing in response to the population. The greater value in cities with the new more convenient technology leads to more and taller development. (Hence the use of the word ‘Up.’)

At first blush, ‘Up’ and ‘Out’ appear to be contrasting scenarios; they are not exclusive, however. More people living in the outer suburbs or exurbs does not mean fewer people live in cities, because the overall size increases (with more people overall). Sydney for instance, is expected to grow from just over 5 million to about 8 million people over the next four decades.

Similarly, as the cost of travel decreases, people will be more willing to live in locations far from where they work. At safe speeds of 160 km/h on freeway lanes exclusively dedicated to automated vehicles, the commuting range expands widely. From Sydney in this new world, Newcastle can be reached an hour on road, and Kiama and Katoomba are even nearer.

Sydney planners have recently proposed the benchmark of the “30-minute city“, the idea that most people can find work, school, or daily shopping within 30 minutes of their homes by walk, bike, or transit. The threshold of 30-minutes is roughly equal to today’s one-way commute in Sydney (actually 35 minutes), shorter by car (26 minutes), longer by train (62 minutes) according to BITRE. The long times by train are because trains are designed to serve longer distance trips, and focus on the Central Business District.

The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.
The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.

The 30-minute city can be achieved through a combination of transport and land use strategies. On the transport side is the question of how fast and how direct the transport network is. On the land use side is the question of where desired activities are located relative to each other.

If the 30-minute city is defined for walk, bike, and transit as the relevant modes, with mobility-as-a-service easily available on-demand, the Up Scenario works best, though getting one-way commuting times for train users down from 60 to 30 minutes is a large ask. In contrast, the Out Scenario can continue to enable a 30-minute city for privately owned autonomous vehicles so long as jobs don’t centralize further in downtowns.

The interplay of AVs and road pricing is especially important. While autonomous vehicles may eventually double or quadruple road capacity, total demand will rise as well due to population growth, so long as people continue to work, shop, and play outside-the-home at today’s rates, even more if traditional patterns of induced demand hold.

It is quite possible that sharing remains a niche while most people choose to own their own cars — the ‘Out’ scenario dominates. Thus, exurbanization and AVs better leverage newly available capacity. But, in the absence of pricing, and with cheap energy, there is little to discourage tomorrow’s privately owned AVs from circulating empty on the road network rather than pay for high prices of parking, and thereby slow travel for everyone else. This possible outcome is so obviously bad, it suggests road pricing or similarly effective regulation in some form is likely.


 

[a] See Levinson, D. (2008). Density and dispersion: the co-development of land use and rail in London. Journal of Economic Geography, 8(1), 55-77 and Xie, F., & Levinson, D. (2009). How streetcars shaped suburbanization: a Granger causality analysis of land use and transit in the Twin Cities. Journal of Economic Geography, lbp031.

[b] For more on this reasoning, see Chapter 11 in Levinson, D. and Krizek, K (2008)  Planning for Place and Plexus: Metropolitan Land Use and Transport. Routledge.

Robots Driving Cars

Robot Driving Car by Vladislav Ociacia
Robot Driving Car by Vladislav Ociacia

As humanity leaves the dark ages, there will come a time when human-driven vehicles are banned from the road for safety reasons, at least somewhere. This creates a huge amount of stranded technology, viable existing cars that will suddenly be devalued.  Some of these are of little interest, and some can be retrofitted with aftermarket kits. For ‘classic cars’, it is important that the vehicle itself remain unchanged, retrofits will devalue the car compared to its more authentic state.

This provides a use case for robots, actual I Robot-like robots, that look vaguely anthropomorphic and have two legs and two arms. They can sit in the drivers seat, control the accelerator and the brake with their metallic robotic foot, and with AV software implemented through a robot frame, be safer than human.

An actual robotic chaffeur, the way people have joked about in bad science fiction for decades, does have a use case.

Sidewalk Talk: What city transportation will look like, circa 2043

I did a Sidewalk Talk with Eric Jaffe of Sidewalk Labs.  Disclosure: I am an advisor to Coord, a unit of Sidewalk Labs. This is a reprint.

A Sidewalk Talk Q&A with forward-looking transportist David Levinson.

 

Historical depictions of the future of transportation (above, Petin’s hot-air balloon system from the journal L’Illustration in 1850) always seem to rely on blimps for some reason. (De Agostini Picture Library)
Historical depictions of the future of transportation (above, Petin’s hot-air balloon system from the journal L’Illustration in 1850) always seem to rely on blimps for some reason. (De Agostini Picture Library)

It’s 2043. Few people in cities own cars anymore. It’s cheaper to rely on electric, self-driving taxis. Some vehicles are big enough to share; others are individually sized to make the most of limited street space. They have one button inside: Stop. Dynamic curbs—patrolled by enforcement droids—remain clear for deliveries, pick-ups, and drop-offs. Street parking no longer exists, and this space has been recaptured for better public uses.

That’s the future as seen by David Levinson, the University of Sydney transport professor who writes the popular Transportist blog and is co-author of the 2017 book The End of Traffic and the Future of Access. “Look back to the 1920s, and you have magazines that ask: What does the future look like?” he says. “Some of it is absurd. Why would we all be using blimps? But some of it’s still like: Why doesn’t the future look like that?”

The truth, he says, is that imagining tomorrow’s urban mobility raises far more questions than it answers. If we get used to the idea of using taxis, what other things will we no longer feel the need to own? What are the new things we now can do because robots can move around without supervision? What will we do with all the extra time we don’t have to spend driving? How do you allocate road space in a world with delivery drones?

“These things are unpredictable in how they play out,” says Levinson, who’s an advisor to the Sidewalk spinoff company Coord, which recently launched a data integration platform for urban mobility. Levinson spoke to Sidewalk Talk about the challenges facing cities today—and the innovations 25 years or so down the road.

You give a lot of thought to the future of transport. How do you see the biggest challenges facing urban mobility at this moment but also in the short- and longer-term future?

There’s the litany of automobile evils we all know: lack of safety, pollution, congestion, and so on. Those are all here and have been here for decades and will remain here for at least a little while longer. Trying to actually solve those collective set of problems, which can be done (a) through technology and (b) on the demand side, is the project for the next couple of decades.

On the technology side, the rollout of electric vehicles is relatively straightforward. The rollout of autonomous vehicles, which is more complicated technically, will probably be a little bit slower. There’s simultaneously the rollout of the transformation from an ownership model to a mixed model of fleet-owned vehicles. And along with this transition toward fleet vehicles there’s also the opportunity to right-size the automobile itself, so we don’t have these large, oversized vehicles holding only one person in them.

Moving towards the one-passenger vehicle has huge benefits, and that’s the biggest challenge we’re not recognizing. The electrification at this point is well understood. Only the oil industry has its head in the tar sands about that. On automation, people have an unreasonable expectation of how quickly we can deploy this kind of technology, but we’ve moved faster than I imagined we would. We’re getting to the point where we’re going to have passengers in cars where the only thing they have is a “Stop” button. And that’s great, but it’s going to take decades to fully deploy this, because such a big system has to be transformed. Remember a few decades after the mobile phone, and a full decade after the iPhone, just under half of homes still have a landline.

To get to a fleet of AVs with just a “Stop button” there’s so much data the car will need to have to make choices, or to offer you choices as a passenger. Do I take a toll road or free road? Do I get to stop here or not? Are streets classified in ways where maybe there’s surge pricing on some?

There has to be a real-time map of the environment at different scales: of the infrastructure, of the presence of other vehicles on that infrastructure. Then there’s a services layer that Coord is doing, a real-time map of road prices, curbside regulation and availability, and parking regulations and availability.

Then you have the question of the user’s value of time. How much are you willing to pay to save a minute, because Road X is more expensive but faster, and Road Y is less expensive but slower? That’s if you imagine we will have some kind of spatial differentiation—I’m not convinced we will. It might just be going toward a universal time-of-day pricing, where it’s higher at 4 pm than 2 pm, but it’s not higher on Road X than on Road Y.

Say on the freeway you’re charging more than on a local road per mile of travel because it’s faster. Then more people will use local roads, and that’s not what you want. But if you want more people using the freeways, are you going to charge a discount on the freeways? That’s counterintuitive. It’s going to look something more like a mileage charge with a time-of-day discount than a differentiation by route. That’s my sense of where this goes.

Would you say road pricing is fundamental to a better future of transportation?

It’s fundamental to a less time-wasting form of transportation. I think there’s significant gains to be had from automation and from refactoring the automobile. That is, if we can convince 90 percent of the trips that they can use a one-passenger car, we can double the capacity of roads just from splitting lanes. Then with automation we can double it again, because vehicles can travel closer to each other. That solves a lot of the problem in most places.

If you can double the capacity of the roadway, that alone buys you 40 years of population growth.

There’s a big question as to how curbs will be managed given the increased demand from new mobility services. Can that happen in the absence of road pricing?

I think curb management is very ad hoc right now. In big cities, this is a tension. Getting that data streamlined and making more rational policies has had no systematic thought given to it, Coord can improve the situation. There is a lobby for people who would be against on-street parking; that would be the people who own off-street parking. And there is the transformation towards shared vehicle fleets in cities; many fewer vehicles need to be stored on the road at any given time because most are in motion, and there are fewer vehicles around because they’re used more efficiently. So that opportunity to eliminate on-street parking and transform that space into bike lanes, bus lanes, and loading and unloading spaces is ripe, the time is right .

Information technology is making it so that we can track and enforce use of lanes in real-time with cameras. There are many ways this could play out. Maybe enforcement needs to identify vehicles by the license plate, which means the camera angle has to be right, which means cities might need a robotic Rita, meter maid. Every block could have its own little enforcement droid to make sure no one is violating the rules about parking their car too long or loading and unloading for longer than needed. And you can do all that without road pricing.

If we get rid of street-parking, do you envision the curb needing the same types of definitions it has now? This is clearly a loading zone. This is clearly a bike lane. Or could it be more flexible?

It could be more dynamic, for instance loading from 4 am to 6 am then it’s for movement from 6 am to 9 am then it goes back to loading. Something like a bike lane you’d want to make more permanent. And for a bus lane, when there are enough passengers to justify a bus lane, it should be a bus lane. You already have cities that have parking until 3 pm, then from 3-7 pm it’s a bus lane (called a ‘Clearway’ in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK). And they have at 3 pm a vehicle and crew making sure the street is clear and ticketing the vehicles that are there. It works well enough, though it is a bit labor intensive.

You can imagine once existing rules are in place and well documented with a systematic way of describing and mapping them, people can think more rationally about which of these parameters they want to adjust. Then it’s just exposing it, showing what the map looks like to someone on the local Curb Management Board,  a new institution responsible for those regulations deciding how to maximize the value of curbspace for the community?

In this scenario, how would you envision pick-ups and drop-offs happening? Would they also be charged? Or they’d be directed to a certain place? I’m thinking of the scenario where you’re not driving, the car is driving.

Certainly they’d be directed to a certain place. You’d want to avoid loading and unloading them at an intersection. Maybe some midblock taxi stand equivalent. As part of your taxi license you get to pick-up and drop-off in whatever district you’re in, or maybe you pay on a per-drop-off basis. It depends how you’re collecting revenue from your taxi operators. In London, with the congestion charge, they exempted taxis arguing the price is embedded in the price of the license. That seems plausible if the license fee is large enough and you want people to use taxis instead of parking, then you want to encourage it and not put in another fee. And if you don’t unload at the designated place, that’s illegal and you get a fine, automatically assessed by camera or enforcement droid.

So how do we get to that place where we move away from the ownership model and toward the fleet model?

It’s a value proposition for the consumer. We already have taxi markets. But most residents say to themselves, it’s cheaper to own a car now than to get taxis every day. So if it costs $10,000 a year to own a car, that works out about $30 a day, and I’d pay more than that for my daily taxi, it’s cheaper for me to own a car. If the cost of taxis comes down to less than $30 a day, the value proposition says, I shouldn’t own.

Now there’s the out-of-pocket versus the fixed-cost question, but that can be dealt with through a subscription model. So just like my cell phone, and I have ‘unlimited’ data up to some threshold per month, I might have ‘unlimited’ rides up to some threshold per month, and then I go above that the taxi company charges me per ride.

The reason you should be able to get it under even $20 a day is that if you go toward automation and electric vehicles, the price of the vehicles should drop. Electric vehicles should be less expensive. To date they are not, but we’re moving in that direction pretty rapidly. Automation is the second thing. You’re saving on the cost of parking. That’s $30 a day alone in big cities. You’ve eliminated the driver so taxis are cheaper, so the marginal cost per ride is really low—cheaper than taxis are today.

But unless you can get that cost structure in place, people are not going to give up their car. And I don’t think public incentives are going to matter a lot here, because most cities won’t have the will or the money to subsidize shared rides just so there’s fewer private cars on the road.

So you see self-driving fleets that aren’t shared?

I see multiple models here. You have a taxi provider like Uber or Waymo providing what we would call a taxi service today, except it’s automated. You’ve got leased cars that are maintained centrally in some respects but you take them home with you, so you have them on-demand. Then you have privately owned cars, or less rigorous leases much more akin to today’s private cars.

In an urban area, I can have a car on-demand and some fleet manages it. In a remote area, a car on-demand is a 10-minute wait. Rural users are less likely to want a shared vehicle.

Do you have the same fear of the zombie or ghost vehicles—cars without any passengers in them?

There will be empty vehicles moving around in any case. There are passenger-less taxis moving around now. That’s probably on the order of 10-20 percent of distance. With a well-managed system, you get that down. With private cars, someone could say: I will drive into the city, then send it home to park, then have it pick me up in the afternoon. That would double miles traveled. That would be terrible. You’d need to have some sort of penalty for that. Road pricing becomes perfectly justified if that kind of behavior emerges.

What about the nightmare scenario where it circles the block for eight hours?

If people start doing that, road pricing is the obvious solution. But even without road pricing, you could make it a crime to circle the block more than once in a short period of time. You have road pricing by ticketing. If it’s automated with cameras, then it’s: we’ve identified your car on the same block three times in the past 15 minutes, that’s a $30 fine. People might complain a little bit, but cities will see that as a good way to disincentivize it, and they don’t have to go through the pain of implementing road pricing. Instead it’s a new crime, enforced using technology the way red-light running and speeding are now in some cities.

There’s going to be all sorts of new regulations. Teenagers will step in front of the automated vehicle to make it stop—we know this is going to happen. We will invent a set of laws and regulations, like ‘annoying a robot’, once these problems begin to emerge. Cities and counties are pretty quick at copying the regulations of adjacent jurisdictions. It’s a diffusion of innovation process. One place writes the rule, they get the rule right, then all the counties and cities around it just copy the rule.

Are there aspects of the future of transportation we’re not focusing on enough?

I think the curb space question is more generally the road space reallocation question. How do we recapture capacity we no longer need to move automobiles, and what do we do about it?

Doing the same thing better is the obvious first thing that happens. But what are the new things we can now do? It’s not just cars moving people. It’s person-less vehicles moving goods—and they’re not cars anymore. That’s going to change a lot about how we shop: what is the retail experience, what does it mean to want something?

Most discussions of shared AVs have an urban-centric viewpoint. How technology changes the world outside of cities is not well understood or much contemplated. It might be that the new transport’s impacts are less outside of cities.

The futurist’s job is to put trends together and paint scenarios, but in the end, we’re 25 years since the Mosaic web browser for the World Wide Web was released, and it has turned out different than was expected. Imagine in 1993 someone said: “Fake news being generated by Albanian teenagers for the purposes of getting ‘ad clicks’ on a social network called ‘Facebook’ from 60-year-olds would shape the outcome of the 2016 election and  elect noted casino owner Donald Trump.” … This is not a scenario a futurist could have foreseen. 2043 could be very strange indeed.

 

This Sidewalk Talk has been edited for length and lightly for clarity.

 

###

Autonomous Vehicles: Deployment and Consequences

Recently I did an interview with Adam Branson  for MODUS, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ magazine. [I am not sure when or if this gets published.]
Google/Waymo car, soon to be retired
Google/Waymo car, soon to be retired
  • Adam Branson questions with bullets.
My answer in block quote.
  • A lot of the claims made for the driverless cars seem to assume a 100% switch in major cities. Is that realistic?

Eventually. Over the next 25 years (say), there will be a transition from 0% to 100%. But eventually, just as there are essentially no horses in the cities (aside from a few police horses), there will be no human driven vehicles.

  • To what degree do you think that city government will have to intervene to maximise the benefits?
 City governments will need to manage when and where  and how cars can be used, as they do today. They will not be able to regulate the nature and form of the automobile itself, as that will be done at the national level to simplify life for manufacturers. Deciding which roads are for movement, and which are for local access, will remain an important function, and this will involve setting speed restrictions and the like. With AVs one hopes these will be adhered to by design.
  • Do you think the proponents of driverless cars have sufficiently considered the general public’s addiction to regular cars?
The new paradigm emerges when the proponents of the old paradigm die off. Over the next 25 years well more than 25% of the population will be new residents to a city. While some people like to drive, eventually the safety consequences of that will be recognized as unacceptable when there are safer cars available. The use of the car itself is likely to remain.
  • What do you think the impacts will be for investment in conventional public transport?
Infrequent service with few passengers is likely to get replaced with more taxi-like services. High flow services in large cities cannot be easily replaced, as AVs, as efficient as they are and might become, will still consume more space per person than a crowded train. To the extent that taxi-like services (automated, shared vehicles) become popular in cities, cities might grow even larger, suggesting more transit. To the extent that instead people choose to live more remotely now that AVs make driving long distances more acceptable, transit will get weaker.
  • Could the advent of driverless cars free up a significant amount of land for housing-hungry cities such as New York and London?
The space reduction of AVs will occur on land that is otherwise used for moving and storing cars. In terms of parking lots and structures, there should be some significant gains in cities. In terms of on-road space, this is not generally useful for development, and if some is freed up due to AVs and vehicle sharing. It might more productively be allocated to bike lanes, transit lanes, or even landscaped linear parks.

QUBE and Autonomous Vehicles

In my youth I was a fan of cable television. Not so much the programs, but the systems. I would religiously watch C-SPAN’s broadcasts of cable TV industry meetings. My dream was to build and own the fiber optic utility (which still is not fully deployed).  One of the fascinating things about the era was the hope about what the future of Cable TV could bring. 500 channels of course, but also education, information, democracy. One of the grandest experiments was QUBE.

As wikipedia writes:

QUBE was an experimental two-way, multi-programmed cable television system that played a significant role in the history of American interactive television. It was launched in Columbus, Ohio, on December 1, 1977. Highly publicized as a revolutionary advancement, the QUBE experiment introduced viewers to several concepts that became central to the future development of TV technology: pay-per-view programs, special-interest cable television networks, and interactive services.

QUBE launched prototypes of CableTV stalwarts Nickelodeon and MTV.

This was ironically, I suppose, a Warner Communications (i.e. Time-Warner) endeavor, given TW’s recent attempt to sell itself out to AT&T.

Qube Remote Control
QUBE Remote Control

While many of the hopes of the era came to pass, two-way TV never really caught on. We comment on programs in real time now on the Internet, not through the television. Sure we have one-way TV, and can request different one-way TV (pay-per-view), but the data flows are extremely asymmetric. People are still not broadcasting their own “CableTV” shows from their living rooms, community access is in a studio, while YouTube and similar services have in fact filled that dream of everyone a broadcaster – with things no one would have imagined at the time.

The Internet achieved most of CableTV system aims, while the CableTV systems, the traditional version of which are now past their peak and in decline in the US, became internet carriers. With 5G coming down the pike, that decline might accelerate.

Today we pin many of our hopes about the future on Autonomous Vehicles. I have a book on it.

They can remake cities, remove the number of cars by enabling people to effectively time-share vehicles, make better use of the roads by taking drivers out-of-the-loop, and improve safety. From the vantage point of 40 years, we can see what became of CableTV, how long it took to get widespread deployment from the ideas prototyped in Columbus, and which hopes were dashed.

Can that inform us about AVs?

  1. Not everything will pan out.
  2. Many of the goals will be achieved by other means.
  3. The changes resulting from achieving those goals are not what we imagine.
  4. New players will emerge, which are not even in existence now.
  5. Some/many/most existing players will disappear through M&A or failure.

Perhaps QUBE is a better analogy to the Automated Highway Systems proposals of the 1990s, and the Internet is the analog of the Shared Autonomous Vehicle of the 2020s. Or perhaps there are no analogies, and knowledge is not transferable.

They key is that there will be many experiments, many competing visions of the future, and failures along the way. That is part of learning. We need not predict the future accurately now, which is in any case impossible. Instead, we need to be able to adapt to changes as they come.

 

 

 

Positions in Robotics at University of Sydney

In addition to the post-doc I advertised yesterday, two other positions might be of interest:

(1) Research Fellow in Robotics and Intelligent Systems

Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems
School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering
Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies
Reference No. 1632/0817

(2)  Lecturer / Senior Lecturer in Robotics and Intelligent Systems

Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems
School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering
Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies
Reference No. 1633/0817

Both positions include “Transport and Logistics” as a potential application area.