Thursday, May 14, 2015

Prediction Analysis: Autonomous Cars in Vancouver

Every time I read about autonomous cars - the Google mapping car, for example - or the 2011 Nevada legislation authorizing autonomous cars I think back to watching The Jetson's as a kid and all the predictions about flying cars. I _still_ want one, dammit!

However, according to a report last February to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, autonomous cars may be a closer reality than flying cars  (Litman, 2015). The report exhaustively examines production timelines, estimates public acceptance, and the pros and cons of four different levels of autonomy in cars.


Level 1 - Function Specific Automation: Things like cruise control, lane guidance and hands-free parallel parking. Many higher end cars already have these features implemented.

Level 2 - Combined Function Automation: Multiple integrated functions like cruise control with lane centering. Under certain conditions the driver can be hands- and feet-off pedals but must be aware and able to take control.

Level 3 - Limited Self-Driving Automation: Driver can rely on car for all functions, including safety, under certain conditions and is not expected to monitor the road all the time but should be able to take over control if needed.

Level 4 - Full Self-Driving Automation: Suitable for non-drivers, the vehicle monitors all road conditions with no expectation of passengers being able to assume control.

Obviously, the different levels have different pros and cons as well as progressively later predicted implementation dates.

Although some car manufacturers predict having Level 3 cars ready for mass market by 2018, reality is that the feature will most likely be expensive and take a considerable amount of time to gain widespread public approval and adoption. The report lists various automotive innovations and their time to widespread adoption as guidance for the timeline. For example, automatic transmissions were developed in the 1950s but weren't really widely adopted until the 1990s, and hybrid vehicles have only about a 4% market saturation despite being on the market for 25+ years.

Some of the advantages that are analyzed include increased mobility for non-drivers such as the elderly or disabled, the ability for individual drivers to rest or work on long commutes which also promotes housing farther away from the place of employment (which may have lower property values, better schools, etc.), potential fuel or insurance savings, and best of all, cars that can drop off the passengers and then park themselves.That final benefit plus the ability to read or work during my commute would make the feature worth quite a bit to me.

Sadly, the report cites a recent poll that revealed general support for autonomous cars few respondents would want to pay for a fully autonomous features and expressed concerns over safety and privacy.

Maybe they are another flying car, after all.

Litman, Todd, author. (2015). Autonomous vehicle implementation predictions: Implications for transport planning. Retrieved from Victoria Transport Policy Institute website:

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