Last month, mobility innovators from across North America gathered in San Ramon, California for the 3rd annual Redefining Mobility Summit. While there are no shortage of conferences and events about the future of mobility, the fact that this one is hosted by GoMentum Station, the largest secure autonomous and connected vehicle testing facility in the United States, gives it particular weight. Being located in the Bay Area, in proximity to a range of tech firms, doesn’t hurt either. The Summit, like the facility itself, brought together car manufacturers, communications firms, tech companies, researches and public agencies to discuss Autonomous Vehicle (AV) development.
Based on the presentations and discussions, a number of important points emerged. Regulation is the greatest challenge for connected and autonomous vehicles right now. The technology is here, but getting approval from the appropriate authorities – whether it’s getting license plates from the DMV, or obtaining temporary or permanent authorizations to test, implement, and operate – has been the greatest challenge. The key question this provoked: How do AVs overcome the skepticism to prove that they are safe?
A second important issue regarded the way drivers and vehicles interact. The human-car interface is at a sticky point right now. New cars are equipped to provide lots of information to the driver (possibly too much) but not smart enough to know how to use the information or to understand what the driver actually needs to know. Artificial Intelligence is expected to provide the bridge for a better interface.
Interestingly, First Transit, one of the largest contract transit services in the US, and which contracts operators for a number of cities, is struggling to fill driver positions. They see AVs as a fill-in for driver attrition, which is an interesting counterpoint to the concern that AVs will take away a lot of jobs. Digging deeper, it’s worth considering whether people are choosing not to become drivers because they do not want that type of work, or because they see bleak long-term prospects in this career.
One issue that was not prominent in Summit presentations, but that was a major preoccupation among attendees was security. Addressing this issue will be vital to ensuring the safety of passengers, and almost as importantly, wider buy-in to AVs in the first place. There are still a range of issues to resolve before we see AVs on most streets, but this shouldn’t take away from the significant progress that has been made with this technology, even in the three short years since the Redefining Mobility Summit began.