LOOK MA, NO HANDS!
Could Portland be a driverless vehicle haven?
Yes, concluded two experts on autonomous vehicles in speeches at a gathering of Forth members Wednesday night. (Forth is the advocacy group for electric vehicles, formerly known as Drive Oregon.) James Lightbody, Senior Consulting Manager at AECOM and Daniel Fernández, Autonomy Engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, were there to talk about current autonomous technology trends.
But it's not going to happen unless lawmakers get in rapid start mode.
Fernández is a senior software engineer working on driverless cars for Jaguar Land Rover in Northwest Portland. He concentrated on robotics at Oregon State University.
He is the automotive representative to the ODOT Task Force on Autonomous Vehicles, which means he has worked in Salem on trying to set standards for AVs.
Oregon is trying to pass an autonomous vehicle bill and has a task force, consisting of Fernandez from Jaguar Land Rover, Uber's- John Isaacs, Intel's Carly Riter and Daimler's Sean Water.
"I've found the work in Salem has been very painless," Fernández told the Business Tribune afterwards. "The legislators want to get an AV bill passed. They want a piece of legislation that not only increases business but also helps Oregonians in general. The biggest hurdle has been the lack of any federal law, and as you can see from the state of our U.S. Congress, it's not very cohesive."
Getting any laws passed in D.C. is hard right now, he says. There was the AV START act passing through the house but Senators were spooked in March 2018 by an Uber killing a pedestrian who was crossing the road mid-block at night. The driver in the self-driving car was looking down at a screen. The legislation has been put off until 2019.
He said the software identified the pedestrian as an obstacle you can drive over, like a plastic bag, at 4.5 seconds before impact. At 1.2 seconds it decided to apply emergency braking but the command did not make it to the wheels because the car had been modified by Uber. Knowing who is liable is a problem because there is not enough case law on such issues yet.
"So far autonomous vehicles have not become a left versus right issue. The biggest hold up has been the Federal government has been hesitant to take on bills in general because of their divisiveness. And the bill on AV has been a casualty of that."
"A federal law would accelerate the pace of performance because it would no longer be cost prohibitive to develop AVs for the U.S." For example, he mentions Audi's Traffic Jam Assist feature, similar to Tesla's Autopilot and GM's Super Cruise, with adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. Traffic Jam Assist takes over the task of steering and slow driving in traffic jams, giving the driver a break. Audi has pulled Traffic Jam Assist from its 2019 models in the US because there is no federal standard here. "If I bought a car in Jacksonville Florida and then drove it 10 miles to Georgia the feature would have to be geofenced," Fernández said, meaning it would have to turn itself off because it's not allowed there.
So, when are we going to get driverless vehicles tootling along Front Avenue or taking sleepy commuters back to Vancouver? It might happen in rideshares and freight before the general public gives up the wheel.
Fernández believes the demand is coming from suppliers in rideshare: the Lyfts and the Ubers, both of which are lining up for massive IPOs. "Once you remove the cost of paying drivers your fares can drop to very low levels. That's the only way they stay competitive in the future. Uber has been developing driverless since the early 2010s, when they established the UATG in Pittsburg and hired a bunch of professors from Carnegie Mellon."
All about the law
Oregon is one of four states allowing platooning, which is a convoy of trucks running very close together with a human driver only in the front vehicle.
Nevada has self-certification, with less reporting required and many miles of open space for testing. Arizona is considered very liberal for testing and deployment, but some say since the Tempe tragedy, the state may have gone too far.
"When you're trying to put legislation on a technology that doesn't quite exist yet you get stuck in a lot of hypotheticals. People have a lot of myths about this technology, and it's our job to put them to rest."
"What we need here is a law that covers deployment (not just testing). Oregon's AV law is nonexistent, but our recommendations are in line with several other states."
The second speaker, James Lightbody, is a senior consulting manager at engineering firm AECOM. He addressed autonomous transit systems not autonomous personal vehicles.
He specializes in multi-modal transit systems, and has been working on one near Mountain View, the North Bay Shore area, that would possibly take thousands of people off the Caltrain commuter trains and shuttle them in driverless buses to various company front doors, including Google and Apple.
He pointed to job growth in Silicon Valley, how it has surpassed the dot com days, adding 900,000 jobs since 2010. All those people need to get around, preferably not in cars.
The scale of development makes Portland's Broadway Corridor look tiny. The North Bay Shore Precise Plan, approved in 2017, allows space for employment growth, 10 million square feet of office space and 10,000 residential units.
It must be walkable and sustainable. The target is to have 45 percent of trips in single occupancy vehicles. Currently the number is 52 percent, mainly because of the private commuter buses laid on by companies.
For example, Google has a fleet of 300 busses bring in 35 percent of its campus workforce. (Microsoft has something similar around Puget Sound).
AECOM is looking at AGT (Automated Guideway Transit), which is buses and mini trains running between guide rails, preferably not at grade so as to give them preferential treatment.
The goal is fewer large vehicles, more frequent medium-size vehicles. They looked at examples such as Singapore's cable car at Sentosa, as well as airport people movers and personal rapid transit and autonomous transit (trains). They need to move 5,000 to 8,000 riders per day, at speeds around 30 mph. Each vehicle would hold 20 to 30 people, and at peak times they would run every 30 seconds. This last mile journey would take no more than 10 minutes.
"The technology is about five years away," said Lightbody. "Now they are more like elaborate golf carts, running at low speeds."
Then there's the uncertainty about regulations. "It could be five years for the technology, and five more for the regulations to be put in place."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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