The first pedestrian fatality caused by a self-driving vehicle occurred this week in Tempe, Arizona. In response, Uber suspended its testing in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto, where it is working on its self-driving technology, using outfitted Volvos and Ford Fusions. But don’t expect this bump in the road to slow the autonomous vehicle juggernaut.
The outrage to the death is predictable and necessary to a degree. But when you consider that we kill well over 40,000 people with our cars annually in the United States, according to the National Safety Council and 1.25 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, it is hard to not to believe there isn’t a better way.
And there are many companies working on developing it. Last December, Lyft kicked off a pilot with nuTonomy to bring its autonomous vehicle technology to the streets of Boston, Massachusetts.
In January, Ericsson began a live service with two self-driving shuttle buses, which traveled at 15 miles an hour down the Stockholm, Sweden, streets. The vehicles use Ericsson’s Connected Urban Transport platform, serves as the virtual bus driver, communicating with smart, sensor-enabled bus stops, traffic lights and road infrastructure.
Arizona is one of the hotbeds of autonomous vehicle testing partially because of favorable laws. On March 1, the Arizona governor signed an executive order that established safety guidelines for the testing of self-driving vehicles but promoted the elimination “unnecessary” regulations and hurdles to the new technology.
Because of the favorable environment, Arizona has become home to a number of autonomous vehicle tests, for companies such as General Motors, Waymo, Uber and Intel – all of whom have made news for their aggressive moves in this space. Since 2009, Waymo’s fleet has logged more than 5 million self-driven miles nationwide, mostly on city streets, and last September it announced a collaboration with Intel for sensor processing, computing and connectivity. Intel, itself, showcased its first autonomous car at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year. GM announced last week that its autonomous vehicle, Cruise AV, will go into product at its Orion Township plant in Michigan in 2019.
A self-driving tractor trailer operated by tech startup Embark drove 2,400 miles from Los Angeles to Jackson, Florida in five days along Interstate 10 last month.
There are different levels of autonomy from one — cruise control, two – lane keeping, three – self-driving with a backup human up to full autonomy – levels four and five, which provide levels of full autonomy. The first production car to achieve level three, the Audi A8, was launched earlier this year.
Waymo and Uber, among others are trying to skip to level four, according to The Economist, which has drawn concerns that they are moving too fast considering the state of the technology.
“Some in the industry consider the partial automation of levels 2 and 3 to be unsafe, because drivers are still required to pay attention even when they have handed over control of the vehicle, which they find hard to do,” according to The Economist.
Even as the technology hurtles forward, the public maintains a healthy amount of skepticism according to the magazine, considering ethical dilemmas and possible cyber-attacks. And, in light of the unfortunate accident in Tempe, there are many who question the need for technology at all.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.