Understanding where driverless cars are taking us – in terms of physical safety, governance models and unintended consequences – is still in its infancy. In this article Tomorrowland 2018 speaker David Wilson, a planning professional part-way through a PhD doctoral thesis on the topic, provides a helicopter view of what’s coming.
Dislodging our substantial transport systems by forceful technological change may benefit some and alienate others.
The fail fast change-makers in Silicon Valley, best known as the FAANG group (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google), are incubating connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), operating global social media networks and ride sharing apps, disrupting global carmakers and creating a cauldron of conflict.
The DNA of Silicon Valley companies is to think big.
FAANG + BAT (Chinese companies Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) are becoming ever more audacious in patenting devices to listen for mood shifts and emotions in human voices.
They have created moonshot labs perfecting persuasive messages to collect more data from unsuspecting consumers to launch technologies for tomorrowland.
Big size can be a big problem
The size of the tech giants is becoming a big issue. They have massive power to influence and manipulate billions of people with Facebook serving 2.23 billion people; and the world wide web serving about four billion people – more than half the world’s population.
However, the tech giants are not invulnerable; recently they have been stumbling due to a consumer backlash about misuse of data with shares plummeting and their user bases shrinking. The speed and disruption with which tech giants have grown is their greatest vulnerability. In sharp contrast to the desire for rapid change there has been a slow incremental introduction of driver assistance systems utilising new technologies that are gradually being incorporated into current vehicles that have decades to become commercially available.
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The fundamental instability of the tech giants and the fleeting affections of consumers for the latest app raise issues about the long-term development cycles necessary as highlighted in the previous table to drive dynamic digital innovations in software, hardware and communications necessary to achieve radical change from manual to automated vehicles.
Vehicle design changes
Vehicle design changes are structured around a five stage framework of automation advancing from Level 0 – manual driving – to Levels 1 and 2, which will require incremental changes in mechanical driving systems.
Radical transformational changes at Levels 3 and 4 will initiate automated driving systems, and Level 5 – full automation– will require integration of automated operating systems for fully robotic driverless vehicles.
Currently the car industry is shaped like a pyramid with the global carmakers at the top supporting several tiers of suppliers, including raw materials and components, IT systems and production partners.
In the future, as the values of vehicle components change, the shape of the pyramid structure will change to a hub and spoke integrated network with global carmakers still at the centre but increasingly surrounded by equally powerful interconnected hardware and software companies and suppliers including tech giants, Google, Microsoft and Siemens, which are flattening and broadening supply chains with additional specialists.
The value of the vehicle components are changing.
Current vehicles are 90 per cent hardware and 10 per cent software. The future transition to CAVs will change the values of car components to 40 per cent hardware and 40 per cent software supported by 20 per cent content providers supplying apps that link the hardware and software.
The balance is changing with high-tech companies such the FAANG + BAT dominating, supplying the greater value through leading-edge software, hardware and operating systems.
The latest artificialintelligence reports on the operating systems of autonomous vehicles highlight that “sensing will be easy” and “perception difficult”.
The first stage of the process collects the data, the second stage develops or fuses the data into an environmental picture, and the third stage makes autonomous choices to proceed.
What’s needed is responsive smart governance
Many countries are closely watching the planning of autonomous citywide networks that will be crucial in developing “fit for purpose” revised road rules and mobility networks with responsive infrastructure required for automated vehicles.
Clearly there is a revolution in mobility that will require responsive smart governance and robotic citywide networks as opposed to the limited small-scale tests and trials currently being carried out under protected test-bed conditions.
The complexity of managing the transition of the five levels of transport automation will need robust government management frameworks. There is a danger of exploring these issues under a transport portfolio alone as there is a risk of missing the broader social macroeconomic costs that will profoundly impact on financial markets, investment, inflation, unemployment, job losses and expansion and the need for improved road safety.
Australia appears to be behind other countries in developing regulatory legal frameworks for CAVs. Europe, the UK, Germany, US, China and Japan are setting the pace.
Unless regulatory frameworks are put in place in Australia, uncertainty will stifle innovation and act as a disincentive to the introduction of CAVs.
In Barry Bozeman’s 2007 book Public Values and Public Interest, the idea of governance capturing public value has been defined as:
“The rights, benefits and prerogatives to which citizens should (and should not) be entitled; the obligations of citizens to society, the state and one another; the principles on which governments and policies should be based.”
The challenge for government agencies will be to harness the energy of the high-tech developers and carmakers to channel it into adding “public value”. There is a need to examine alternative governance frameworks that are already in place to guide the evolving transition to CAVs. The Germans already have a highway code for driverless cars that signposts the issues regulators need to address here and now.
There are multiple transition approaches being developed by leading transport agencies in the US, China and Europe who have established government/industry task forces to coordinate strategic mobility plans to provide a regulated pathway for CAVs to be developed.
The powers and wealth of the tech behemoths and the entrenched global carmakers are accelerating, moving in ways that make it hard to predict who will benefit – possibly enormously – from the development of CAVs. Two options are emerging – one that will provide positive benefits and one that will produce negative outcomes.
The first option with integrated CAVs and government regulation is likely to result in:
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The second option – expanding global markets for CAVs without government regulation – is likely to produce negative results:
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The question is: will the loss of our familiar manual cars be a benefit for humanity, or are we heading towards an Orwellian future where a concentration of high-tech global “fangs” manipulate and control our lives, minimising government regulators to toothless tigers?
As George Orwell warned:“No advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimetre nearer.”
David Wilson is undertaking a part time PhD doctoral thesis with the University of Technology Sydney on the future development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. He has been working with Transport for NSW for the past four years. He will speak at The Fifth Estate’s Tomorrowland 2018 event on 6 September.