Positive consequences: The impact of the automated vehicle
A look at the future vehicle through the eyes of SAE International
This article is the fifth of a six-article series from SAE International providing a practical look into the feasibility of connected vehicles and autonomous driving. Read thearticles.
Day by day, the buzz surrounding autonomous vehicle technologies is growing. Once a topic reserved for automotive industry conferences and publications, the trend to develop partial and fully automated vehicles has taken hold of high-profile trade shows like CES, is referenced by mainstream media daily, is being addressed by federal and state government agencies though rulemaking and has become a main talking point in current event conversations.
More often than not, the conversation revolves around the development of these vehicles, with the debate centering on whether they are practical and possible with today's available technologies, especially with OEMs and suppliers touting that they're coming sooner than later. Many have announced on the record that we'll be driving autonomous vehicles by 2020.
However, a topic that is not as frequently considered is the widespread effect automated driving will have on the driver and greater society. With 2020 only a few years away, is it possible for the future to be vastly different from the one we live in today? The answer is absolutely yes.
Semi- and fully autonomous vehicles will change the way we perceive and utilize transportation, impacting the ways we move goods and ourselves from one place to another. There are numerous impacts to be expected, but at SAE International, we can categorize changes into two categories: safety and convenience.
These benefits emerge as different technologies previously unseen on vehicles become mainstream. For example, approximately 90 percent of accidents are the result of driver error. To compensate, the industry has added numerous advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to vehicles in the form of antilock braking, stability control, traction control, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, lane deviation warning and more recently, collision alert systems and automatic emergency braking.
These technologies in themselves do not equate to an autonomous vehicle but are key building blocks for autonomous driving systems. It's when we get into level 3 and above of the SAE J3016 levels of driving automation where we see systems working together to remove the burden of driving from the driver in certain circumstances. Once level 4 automation (the goal for 2020) is achieved, we will see the vehicle taking over more responsibility than the human driver.
To reach that kind of automation, systems will be in place to reach beyond the vehicle. In the coming years, we can expect a network called dedicated short range communications (DSRC) to come into play. DSRC will be responsible for connecting vehicles in ways that lidar, sensors, and radar cannot. It will connect a vehicle to other automobiles, surrounding infrastructure and even pedestrians walking or biking along a road. Communication messages will include warnings for weather conditions (such as ice, snow and flooding), curve speed warning, emergency vehicle alerts, disabled vehicle in roadway, vulnerable road user alerts, traffic signal phase and timing, and intersection movement assistance.
The plan is to roll this technology out in urban areas first, slowly spreading to more suburban and rural areas as it matures. With this technology, vehicles will receive messages to inform and alert the driver when traffic lights will change, when pedestrians are crossing the road and if vehicles ahead have detected potential hazards. Combining this data with its own on-board sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, autonomous vehicles will drive themselves without a need for human intervention.
According to Jack Pokrzywa, SAE International's Manager of Ground Vehicle Standards, "In some ways, these vehicles will be far superior to human drivers. They'll be able to 'see' around corners and over hills. Because of their DSRC connections, they'll have information about the driving environment that our human senses are not capable of acquiring and processing. With all of the standardization and planning going into these developing technologies, autonomous driving promises to be a safer way to travel."
In fact, the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration estimates that up to 80 percent of non-impaired crash types may be prevented by connected vehicle technology.
Gaining back lost time
The same technologies that increase safety will have a greater effect on convenience through gaining back "lost" time. Think of it this way: What would you do with all the time you spend behind the wheel? This is the same question that engineers and entrepreneurs, alike, are dreaming about answering. Semi-autonomous vehicles of the near future will likely require a dedicated driver to be ready to take the wheel in the event of an emergency override, but as the technology matures we will likely see a driver's role diminish or even cease to exist once level 4 and level 5 fully autonomous systems are introduced.
This means that vehicle occupants will be free to carry on with other activities such as work, entertainment, social engagements, and reading – without paying attention to the road. It also means that vehicles will be able to auto-park themselves, dropping off passengers in a valet fashion at their destinations. Autonomous vehicle technology will increase the mobility for elders, youth and handicapped persons. The need for parking lots will significantly decrease since vehicle occupants will not need to retrieve their own vehicle. Similarly, since the fleet of vehicles on the road will always be in communication with one another, traffic will be reduced as vehicles will group, or "platoon," together and maintain consistent speeds.
"I expect automated trucking to take off before pedestrian cars in the form of platooning," said Justin McNew, president and founder of JMC Rota and SAE standards consultant. "Eventually, pedestrian cars will follow because of its inherent safety and economical advantages. The whole reason for this technology is to prevent car crashes, save lives and to efficiently transport people and cargo. Automated vehicles will relieve congestion on our roadways without the need to add capacity. Instead, we are increasing capacity through the smart and efficient use of transportation technology."
Vehicles may also be able to travel at faster rates of speed, since they'll be better prepared to react to the environment. The combined result is a transportation ecosystem where travel time is reduced and the availability to complete other tasks while driving is significantly increased. In all aspects, time is maximized.
Getting from here to there
It wouldn't be fair to forecast the safety and convenience advantages of autonomous vehicles without the disclaimer that there is still an enormous amount of work to accomplish before these advantages can be achieved. Looking at the current status of development, we see a lengthy list of hurdles to overcome in the form of standard development, project funding, technology advancement, legislation and regulatory decisions to be made.
Fortunately, the industry is approaching this transformative mobility environment by relentlessly innovating through collaboration (such as supporting the collaborative standards development process at SAE), testing technologies in controlled settings and working with governments around the world to lay the groundwork for upgraded infrastructure including DSRC implementation.
We will see technologies achieving level 4 and 5 driving rolled out in select controlled urban environments and slowly expanding from there. This change will not happen overnight, but we're confident that autonomous and connected car technology will spread to even the most rural corners of the world, changing the way we perceive transportation.
Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International