Automated cars

The road to a CAV future

Roads cross on a highway

Connected automated vehicles will be on our roads sooner than you think.

Our century-old system of roadways plied by human-controlled vehicles is going to change much faster than many realise.

Automation, connectivity, artificial intelligence and distributed computation are combining with new service-based business models to create a new mobility economy. This economy will potentially boost improvements in safety, efficiency and affordability.

The opportunity for dramatic improvements across several dimensions of transport as we know it is truly transformational.

For that reason, many countries are trying to find ways for typically-sedate policy processes to keep up with the rapid pace of connected and automated technologies, many of which are nearing market readiness.

And the technologies themselves create a complex web of functionalities varying widely in their state of development and proximity to commonly-held ideals of “driverless” transport.

But many of the questions about how close we are to significant disruption in transport must be qualified in terms of the level of automation, the roadway environment and the business model. For instance, will they be privately owned or fleet-operated?

In the US, the subject is often simplified to “connected and automated vehicles (CAVs)”.

This implies a highly-automated vehicle (HAV) benefiting from low-latency connectivity. At the present time, that connectivity is in the form of Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC).

While other viable options are likely to become available, the main emphasis is on the automation rather than the connectivity.

CAV testing

Despite the volume of media devoted to the subject, actual numbers of HAVs operating on or being tested on public roads are small.

HAV legislation that was recently introduced in some US states refers to both HAV “testing” and “operation”.

In reality, however, we are at the stage of “field operational testing”, implying non-commercial operation in a realistic environment and on a scale sufficient to provide confidence in HAV performance capabilities.

We are now beginning to see a dramatic increase in the scale and “realism” of these tests.
Rather than being measured in hundreds of vehicles, these deployments will be in the hundreds of thousands. And they will be carried out by large companies with mobility credentials, rather than by automakers or their suppliers.

The vehicles’ aura of autonomy will reduce in this brave new world of automotive products, barriers to entry will reduce and century-old automotive bastions will begin to erode.

The first big moves in CAV deployment will therefore break the current automotive mould of private car ownership.

This trend is likely to continue, with households dividing their transport expenditure between motor vehicle ownership – at a lower level than at present – and increased use of on-demand services.

CAVs will undoubtedly be marketed widely as vehicles to be privately owned by automotive customers.

They will need to meet national safety and emissions standards – building on long-established tradition, with significant twists – but also meet state and local traffic and infrastructure rules.

We can already see that automotive mandates will migrate to a quality assurance approach.

Notions of customer loyalty will need to make way for trust-building in HAV technology. Iron-clad vehicle approval systems will evolve to more explicit roles for more players in risk management.

The vehicles’ aura of autonomy will reduce in this brave new world of automotive products, barriers to entry will reduce and century-old automotive bastions will begin to erode.

CAV cities

As the automotive world morphs, a new world of mobility will arise, based on data and services rather than products.

The cities we live in – and where many of our companies are located – are ripe for a transformation based on data, analytics and communication fulfilling human aspiration, talent and interaction.

The resulting interactive wealth creation will outstrip the old transactional economy.

The fusion of desirable skills, as well as their range and accessibility, will create new businesses much faster. The “smart cities” movement has begun to use technology, attract high-value companies, develop educational centres and house talent and accomplishment.

It comes as no surprise, then, that many cities recognize CAV as at the cutting edge of enabling a better living and working environment.

The deployment of CAV in cities starts for many with locations, precincts and campuses where low-speed driverless shuttles are introduced. And as we learn more about these technologies, we can expand locations and operational parameters, such as speeds.

The widely-distributed, diverse and even haphazard nature of such deployments is anathema to the old automotive model.

Increasingly, the technological onus will fall on the companies and institutions benefiting from CAV deployments and their risk-management partners.

At least some of these partners need the ability to take data from geographically-dispersed and divergent environments and create effective risk management processes.

For a wide range of companies to take part in the new transport ecosystem, we need more and larger field operational tests. Active public-private consortia are needed to work on the big questions of data sharing, risk management, quality assurance and liability.

And we cannot rely solely on technology in vehicles to assure the safety of the transition to the CAV era: infrastructure technology must also play a critical role.

Dr Peter Sweatman FTSE

Cofounding principal of CAVita

Dr Peter F. Sweatman is a cofounding principal of CAVita and International Enterprise Professor in Transport Technology at the University of Melbourne. He has more than 30 years of experience in transportation research and innovation, and the application of R&D. He is a trusted national voice on safety, ITS, transportation research and education, connected and automated vehicles, and freight technology and policy. His professional experience covers private industry, academia, and government. He has worked extensively in Europe and Asia-Pacific as well as the United States.