Tag Archives: automation

Will Automated Vehicles Change the World?

In a world that is defined by one constant: change, one single technology being called “ the most influential technology in the past century” is a bold statement that people cannot ignore any longer. But is this truly a technology which will revolutionize the way in which we see our world? Is this really the aforementioned “most influential technology in the past century”? As we’ve covered previously, car manufacturing and transportation, two of the sectors that people are perhaps most familiar with and can relate to will experience massive changes that will effect not only the people in the industry, but also the world at large. And yet, the positive aspects of this technology are immeasurable. Looking at the U.S. transportation system current day, once a person is 17 they are flung into the traffic and daily struggles of navigating on some of the most dangerous roadways. Now stop and think for a second as the future of driving will be changed with upgrades to the standard vehicle today: Roads will be safer, traffic could be eliminated, and “passengers” (anyone in an automated vehicle) will experience an increase in the amount of free time they have due to shorter rides. 

We can see one very apt comparison can be made when buildings first adopted fully automatic elevators. There was a similar reaction made by many people back then akin to the reaction people have when talking about automated vehicles today.  Many felt uncomfortable to be in an elevator that was automatic, these people longed for an operator in the elevator to make sure they could get to their floor safely because they simply did not trust the new technology. Current-day generations unsurprisingly take this technology for granted because they never experienced a time where there was not automated elevators. Is this starting to sound familiar? It should. Just how the idea of automated vehicles driving around and having free reign on the road is a scary thought for so many people today, so too was the idea of elevators working on their own in the past. So then, will automated vehicles one day be as simple and regular as automatic elevators? We’ve all seen videos online like this one involving young children who display a familiarity and enjoyment in using an iPad, so in that same vein will these self-driving cars become the new iPad or automated elevator? A tool that newer generations will accept much more easily than those who live through the transition? I’d like to think that as the technology advances, and the world gets more and more exposure to autonomous vehicles it will become a banal normality to no longer drive your vehicles any longer. The common person will have to become comfortable with the fact that their cars were pre-programmed and they do not have complete control in decision making.

Perhaps contrasting the final point regarding a loss of control in the previous paragraph, another angle to self-driving cars is to think about the amount of companies that will grow and prosper making their living off of the rise of this technology. Not only that, we must also try to observe and understand the amount of change that will be brought on not only on a personal level by automated vehicles but also for city planning and other logistical endeavors. This article does an extraordinary job looking at the different ways in different approaches to automated vehicles will have different results for society as a whole. For example, Uber has already taken over Pittsburgh with their autonomous fleet as we’ve discussed previously. However, this is just one of the three options currently being talked about for the future of autonomous vehicles. The first option is private ownership, which is perhaps the most well known category. We see this already with the current state of our transportation system using buses, trains, etc. to move people from point A to point B that are all owned by companies. Another option is buying into companies and “renting” cars from Tesla, Google, or Ford. This means that after paying a fee to a specific company whenever a car is needed you would simply call for it and they would send a car. The last option is a bit similar to the last but for key reasons is the favorite of urban planners because it will eliminate the most cars: a shared fleets of cars. Acting like Uber Pools or a taxi, a car would pick up a group of people all heading to the same location and would drop them off and then when a car is needed again, another one can just be called. The key difference here is that these pools would be owned by the government much like buses or trains and not require fees be paid to a company for the service.

Now there is currently a three-era breakdown of the installation of fully functioning autonomous vehicles that starts at 2015, goes to 2020, and finally stops at 2050. The first era as most of you may already know has already started: automated vehicles are already a reality and being tested in fleets across the world like in Singapore and Pittsburgh. Couple this with the fact that there are now emerging models and technologies that are being created and released and that testing has been ramped up especially in a state like California and you get a formula that is set for mass amounts of innovation in a very quick time span. Tesla is one of the best examples of this with their release of Autopilot 2.0. The next era is set to begin in 2020 and end in 2030: this era will be marked by the insurance companies no longer covering an individual driver, but rather now covering companies due in large part to private ownership becoming a thing of the past, causing companies to own the cars and rent out their vehicles to citizens in the country. Along those lines, since the driver will have no longer have liability of any decision that the car makes the insurance must also insure that the technologies controlling the vehicles is for lack of a better word, bulletproof. Finally, the years from 2030 to 2050 are forecasted to be when automated vehicles are predicted to become the primary means of transportation. The most important milestone reached in this era will be that vehicle crashes will fall 90%, saving billions of dollars per year and making the roads a safer place for all drivers. This will then lead to the redesigning of major cities and towns as we know; as an example, with cars constantly coming and going parking spots can be replaced or removed. Today, cars are parked 95% of the day which will be dramatically decreased to a mere 40-50%. The extra space can lead to further innovation of new technology in now available space. Right now it may be hard to fathom of a world where the drivers will no longer be driving but rather passengers in their own car however once the world has become fully comfortable with this idea, look out for the rapid of advancements of this great technology. The world of tomorrow will undoubtedly become more efficient and roads will look dramatically different than they do present day.

Yielding to the Wealth Gap

As our society draws closer and closer to a world with autonomous vehicles there is always a bit of uncertainty as to what the future will hold. What changes will be made to the roads of our world? How will these vehicles function? etc. But there is one question that perhaps isn’t receiving the amount of attention it should be: who will be driving these cars? Certainly we can expect that car manufacturers will not be standing on street corners handing out keys to their newest and fanciest autonomous cars with no concern for profits or the like. So we must now ask ourselves this: will the people who absolutely need this technology be the ones to get it? Before we go on please take a a few minutes and watch the video below to understand just what I mean when I say that.

As we see in the video these cars can undoubtedly have an amazing effect on the lives of people from all walks of life. From erasing the gap of mobility and ease of travel between drivers today and those who are disabled, to significantly reducing the amount of crashes and accidents as we’ve covered previously it is clear that automated vehicles will have an immeasurable impact on the quality of life of everybody in the United States and beyond. Knowing that, it would seem only logical that the government or car manufacturers at the very least take steps to ensure this technology gets in the hands of everyone – one safer driver means a whole safer road in general after all. But yet this is the area of automated vehicles that gets a little complicated because as we all know, technology is expensive – even technology that has been around already for years (looking at you, new Macbook Pro). So what then do we do? Do we have an obligation as a society to ensure that everyone who needs an automated vehicle gets one? And if so how do we finance such an endeavor?

Looking just at the data, in 2014 the average American spent around $30,000 on a new car. For reference, the Toyota Prius in the video above starts at a price of $20,806 and while on the surface it would seem that the average American would be able to afford this vehicle this is before any of the new automation technology is taken into account. Looking at the technology we’ll start with the addition of Velodyne LIDAR system which is the main operating system for the vehicle; add to that the visual and radar sensors for the vehicle and the cost for that alone comes to about $10,000. Moving on from that there is also the GPS array which is needed to keep the automated vehicles running that clocks in at a cool $200,000. So just looking at this from an extremely shallow perspective, the Toyota Prius that was featured in the above video costs nearly $320,000; more expensive than a Ferrari 599. It should go without saying that as of right now this does not bode well for the future of affordable self-driving cars as with the high costs of the new technologies your average American will not be able to afford one of these vehicles.

However, all is not lost as with advancing technology also comes cheaper alternatives to the technology in an attempt to stay competitive.  Today, instead of Toyota rolling out a new fully automated Prius and adding nearly $300,000 to the price tag they are instead opting to add only around $7,000-$10,000 to price tag in exchange for having the new Prius instead be a semi-autonomous vehicle. With these minor adjustments and technology prices decreasing eventually over time it is predicted that by 2035 automating a vehicle will only increase the price of the car by $3,000. Currently and perhaps unsurprisingly it appears that automotive companies have a bit of an advantage with rolling out these cars quickly as industry giant Google continues to hold that they still are operating under the model that their fully automated vehicles will not available for sale until the five to ten years. Looking at the landscape of autonomous vehicles today it is not an unreasonable expectation that most of the country will have the opportunity to buy a fully autonomous vehicle soon. However we must be mindful that having the opportunity and being able to are two very different things, and that even as prices drop in some areas there will still be people left behind as a result of lacking the money to advance into the automated age with everyone else. Today I leave you with a video posted below; a recent publicity stunt from Budweiser involving an automated beer truck driving around on a highway – let it serve to remind us that for as amazing and cool as this technology is lets not break out the beer and celebrate before the people who really need it, the Steve Mahan’s of the world, get it.

Automated Vehicles: Questionable Ethics

Ethics is hardly, if ever, the starting point of a conversation about automated vehicles. The truth is that in the world of automated vehicles ethics can be something that is often overlooked or forgotten about entirely, seemingly taking a backseat in discussion. In this blog post however I hope to rectify this immediately because after reading an article last week, ethics in autonomous vehicles have been the only topics that I have been researching. Pulling no punches, the article in question looks at Mercedes-Benz  as the first car manufacturer to release their software information and brings up a rather blunt initial question: in the event of a unavoidable crash would you want your new self-driving vehicle to prioritize your own life as the owner of the vehicle or the lives of several innocent children? In so many words the scenario is broached like this: suppose you were in an autonomous vehicle and a car was on the wrong side of the road. The software driving the car now has a decision to make: it can either swerve left into oncoming traffic, putting you in immediate danger or, option two, swerve the car to the right onto the sidewalk and potentially harm a group of children walking home from school. The decision is not an easy one, nor is it one to be made lightly.

Regardless, as per the article Mercedes has now given their answer to this question: they will swerve to the right and run over the group the children on their way home from school. Now to some people this may be the clear decision to make in this situation but some may still be wondering exactly why Mercedes has gone in this direction when programming the software for their autonomous vehicles. To help understand we will take a look at a moral issue very closely associated with this dilemma, the “Trolley Problem. The Trolley Problem is a thought experiment developed by Philippa Foot in 1967 which involved a trolley coming down a road where men were currently working. If the trolley stays straight on its current path, it will kill five people on the tracks, however if you switch a lever, the trolley will instead go down a different path only killing one person. The main question raised is obvious: what is the right decision to make in this situation? This has been the moral dilemma as we’ve understood it for many decades, however now car manufacturers have to address this issue with a whole new layer of complexity added to the equation. Below this paragraph I’ve included a video to help explain the idea of this problem before we go any farther to help clarify any questions you may have. 

As I’m sure most of you could probably have concluded by now, in the real world of self-driving cars this problem is more than just an ethical dilemma, it’s a PR bomb waiting to go off. Just think about the car companies that will soon be designing and programming the new autonomous vehicles of the future and which car you would rather drive, the one that prioritized your own personal safety at all times or the one that prioritized others before you; I know which I’d rather drive. The fact of the matter is that if Mercedes-Benz (or any other automotive company for that matter) prides themselves on customer satisfaction it would make absolutely no sense to have cars programmed not to prioritize customer safety. Essentially, (under the assumption that there would still be automotive accidents) Mercedes-Benz would effectively be designing “death cars” in the eyes of their customers, not a very good business strategy at all. Looking at another article similar questions are brought up revolving around the difference between a car and a motorcycle: is it better to hit a car or a motorcycle in this situation? The unfortunate fact is that all this is a catch 22 situation, not helped by the fact that right now there is no law in place to lead the car manufacturers and developers in the legally “right” direction. Therefore, there is no question that it makes the most sense that the manufacturers are taking the Mercedes-Benz approach and developing with the customer in mind. What are your thoughts on this situation? Should automotive companies be taking this kind of approach in the future or is there perhaps a better solution?

Automated Vehicles: Here & Now

Science fiction has always been an extremely popular genre whether in movies, in television, or in novels. Indeed, it is a fascination fueled by the innate imagination inside of every human being – the ability to dream endlessly about what the future may hold. However, as many sci-fi fans may tell you such fantasies usually stay as just that, a fantasy, as is the case of lightsabers from Star Wars, or The Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. But today the world is bearing witness to perhaps one of the greatest exceptions to this rule: automated vehicles. Posted below this paragraph is a video that details a brief history of the idea of automated vehicles for the first few minutes of the video’s run time. In the video the narrator explains not only have automated vehicles been around in some form for longer than most people would suspect, but also that the idea originated in a 1929 sci-fi magazine. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the future and we get to be a part of it here and now.


But now that we’ve succeed in merging one of the coolest ideas of science fiction into the real world, just what exactly are we doing with autonomous vehicles current day? Today’s post aims to take a shorter term approach and dig deep into what this technology is doing for us not in the future, but current day.

To start off, Tesla has been on the forefront of innovation since their insertion into the auto industry in 2003. Currently they are best known for their semi-automatic vehicles on the road that are impressive not only from a technological standpoint, but also for the fact that they are electric. The main driving force of Tesla is the CEO, Elon Musk, who can be frequently seen on social media and in various other meetings and talks supporting the progression of autonomous vehicles. The company constantly updates the software that goes into their cars, and are now soon to release their first autopilot software to be installed into their newer model cars. Musk was quoted in August as saying “What we’ve got will blow people’s minds, it blows my mind …it’ll come sooner than people think.” In connection with this, Bosch, the leading distributor of car parts has just released their first self driving vehicle. This is a huge step for Tesla because the software being used in the Bosch’s vehicle will be the same software in Tesla’s Autopilot 2.0. To help understand just how big a leap this is, a level system is used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) when describing how autonomous certain vehicles are. Currently Tesla’s cars are at a level 2 autonomy, however these cars coming from Bosch rank higher at level 4 autonomy (fully functioning autonomous vehicle) thanks to the autopilot program that is soon to be released. The reason Tesla is now using the Bosch technology is because of an accident that occurred with one of their semi-autonomous in Florida because of a “technical failure” when the vehicle’s sensor could not recognize a tractor trailer due to it blending in with the glare of the sun. Due to the crash, Moblieye, an auto tech supplier left the company, so Tesla turned to Bosch. Despite this setback the world is still eagerly awaiting the next big piece of news to come from Tesla in the future.

The next company to look at is Ford, a longstanding and popular motor company that created the “first affordable automobile” the Model-T. However, that small 1927 revolution is nothing compared to what Ford is planning on releasing in 2021 as heard from CEO Mark Fields when he made the announcement on August 16th that Ford will release a level 4 autonomous vehicle. As the level system from the NHTSA above tells us, this is final level of autonomy which requires absolutely no human interaction. Interestingly, Ford also announced that this first new vehicle would not have steering wheels or control pads. Further, in 2021 Ford will not be selling the cars to the public but rather using the vehicles as a shuttle for their own employees. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this announcement from Ford is that they are skipping levels of autonomy and opting instead to release a vehicle which is fully autonomous. While some companies like Tesla, Google, and Uber are taking a more comprehensive approach with street testing and semi-autonomous vehicles first to move the software along this could all change extremely quick because Ford is opting for a more immediate route. Look for Ford and other U.S. auto companies to continue innovation and progress even further.

Finally, we step away from car manufacturers and take a look at the transport company, Uber. When Uber was founded in 2009 it instantaneously become a disruptive force in the automotive industry. Taxi drivers in all cities around the country scrambled to try to keep up with the massive changes that Uber was causing. Fast forward seven years and now Uber has upped the ante with a strong push in the world of autonomous innovation. Two months ago Uber rolled out autonomous vehicles on the streets of Pittsburgh. As of right now the cars unfortunately have a limited number of streets they can operate on due to programming constraints however this technology has gotten to the point where Uber drivers were only operating the vehicle close to 30% of the time on any given ride. This decision made many people wonder why Uber chose Pittsburgh for the initial testing of their automated vehicles as they are a California company and California is known as a state leading the way with laws and regulations allowing autonomous vehicles to hit the roads.  The main reason for the Pittsburgh is surprisingly simple however, Carniege Mellon University, which is home to most of the technology that is driving Uber’s advancements. Additionally, the company felt it was important to have engineers close to the vehicles just in case anything happened. Thus far there have been two conflicting reports about two incidents involving accidents occurring with the new autonomous vehicles. However, both of the accidents were human error, one being the driver went down a one-way street and the other was an Uber vehicle that got rear ended by another vehicle. The critics are trying hard to restrct Uber because right now they are the closest company to moving this technology to a national level. 

According to Reuters, various companies are just starting onto the onset of a competition between each other in the autonomous vehicle world. Indeed in terms of unlikely bedfellows , not only does Reuters have Uber slated to be Apple’s competition in the autonomous vehicle industry but they are also reporting that Google and Ford are rumored to partner in 2016 for automotive innovation. It would seem that many companies such as Google and Ford or Apple and Tesla are teaming up because while the tech and media companies have the advantage for Research and Development capabilities as well as existing computing technologies, the auto makers possess the industry expertise and facilities necessary to make the innovation a reality.  Yet, Uber is arguably well placed to be the leader in this regard as they well capitalized and Uber has already brought many changes in the taxi-driver on demand sector.  Uber is no longer simply viewed as a ridesharing app, current day it has now reached a market whereby using a smartphone to match demand and supply for automobiles efficiently and cheaper. Between Uber and Apple it would seem that Apple will need to utilize their technological capability to enter that sector in order to compete with Uber.

Meanwhile current day, Google has created a self-driving car with two routing programs, a “long term router” that acts much like the GPS device on a normal car, and another, short-term router that makes decisions on when to speed up, slow down, turn and execute other maneuvers. The self-driving car is poised to have a positive impact because there will be less accidents on the road, and as such less fatalities. At the moment, it would seem that autonomous vehicles are right around the corner waiting for the light to turn green so they can be allowed onto the streets of the United States.

No Automated Answers

Automated vehicles, like most up and coming technologies, are extremely exciting to some people but unsurprisingly terrifying to others. There exist a great many people who cannot wait to see increases in productivity or inefficiency the likes of which we’ve never seen before that is currently being heralded by the coming of automated vehicles. As we will cover in a future post, automated vehicles will make almost everyone’s lives easier and more convenient by decreasing the amount of time and effort spent driving cars. But why exactly is this being mentioned in a post about the downsides of automated vehicles? What could make people be reprehensible about having automated vehicles? You’ve probably already figured out the answer on your own: job loss. Just from a cursory glance at statistics from 2014 provided by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics we are able to see that in the United States alone transportation makes up 4,640,300 jobs, all of which stand to become redundant when the revolution that is automation hits the transportation industry. Unfortunately, those four million people are not the only ones who should be worried because the way this technological change is set to change our world there will be no one who is left unaffected. Before going anything farther into this topic I’ve posted an extremely well-made video below on the topic of automation which may help to convey the extent to which automation will touch not just vehicles but all facets of our lives.

Coming away from that video I’m reminded very much of poem by famous English poet John Donne which has a verse that reads thusly,

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.”

Just keeping the conversation focused on the transportation industry, the loss of over four million jobs in the United States will be felt not only be those unemployed people but also economically nationwide. However, problems will persist farther than just on an economic scale when those four million jobs are made redundant. The United States will be left with a dearth of jobs for those four million displaced transportation employees as most will not have the education nor the skill set needed to obtain a job in skilled labor industries. Therefore with four million people out of a job and lacking the prerequisites to get a job that has not been automated the United States, as well as the rest of the world, will be left in a very precarious situation with no easy solution for combating unemployment.

Following that, for all the good that the future of autonomous vehicles holds there are still other issues that arise when trying to successfully implement them. The first and perhaps the biggest obstacle for getting an autonomous vehicle on the road would be the rapid pace that both driving laws and the legal system in the United States and around the world would need to change. Before any automated vehicles can be made street legal various laws would have to dramatically reworked. Just as an example, when doing research for this blog post I attempted to find posts or videos on the internet which would provide a useful definition of what being street legal is with regards to automated vehicles. Of the multiple articles that I found, none of them have any useful information regarding self-driving cars. The only article I was able to find about the issue would only go as far as to say that self-driving cars operate in a, “kind of legal gray zone.” Regardless, steps are however being made in the right direction. The first state to take one such step has been California, which is allowing testing on the streets of it’s state once certain conditions are met. The most important part of all of this for both companies and the government is the cost of the law with each automated vehicle that is being tested without the aid of a human behind the wheel needing to be insured for five million dollars. While this will make it extremely costly for companies to test their cars on California streets the unfortunate reality is that California is the only state where humanless tests are allowed. Delving deeper into the law and logistics of automated vehicles, the next part of the new California laws are 112 pages and a four part policy that must be met in order for any car to even hit the streets. The U.S. Department of Transportation has set a clear 15- point safety assessment clearance policy that each car must pass before they are allowed to be driven which could make the process rather repetitive and tedious.  The obvious downside here is that because of the increase in costs and the high levels of restrictions levied upon automated technology by the law the technology is unable to grow at the fastest possible rate.

On a completely different front, with an increase in reliance on technology and software to operate our vehicles people will start viewing these less as vehicles and more as computers. Unfortunately, just like with computers people will look to hack into our cars, which could be detrimental for the safety of the roads. The world of cyber security is still years away from catching up with the ever advancing technology we know as autonomous vehicles. We are verging on a world where there will be thousands of networks operating to make self-driving cars run everyday, and moreover, a world where automakers will have to step up their security in order to ensure the safety of all drivers. Think of a world where a terrorist attack is no longer the threat of a nuclear bomb, but the threat of them gaining access to our driving networks and controlling our streets and highways. The future is a place where we cannot afford to have no internet connection as that will make it impossible for autonomous vehicles to communicate with other autonomous vehicles on the road. Right now the automated vehicles are relying on software like Google Maps to operate their vehicles which translates to vehicles of the future having a dependency on being connected to wifi at all times which would require the addition of wireless networks on all U.S. roadways. Not only that, the installation of wifi is just the first step as for the technologies to truly work. GPS and specific software for the vehicles themselves will need to be updated constantly so that the cars can function properly and avoid accidents. Not only would all this be costly but also it would require wireless companies to come together in order to be able to string up connection needed for the cars to run.  So yes, you could say that automated vehicles have more than a few areas in which they are still for lack of a better word, lacking.

Driven by Innovation

There is no denying that the world as we know it is driven by innovation, from our cell phones to our laptops, the technology that makes a lot of our world work has changed in a drastic way even from just ten years ago. We have reached a point as a people were mere technology and concepts can be reformed and reimagined in the space of minutes because the capability of our technology is constantly being driven forward by the ability of humans to innovate and invent. However, we are now at the precipice of a future where we not only drive technology, but technology drives us. An idea that was once reserved purely for the genre of science-fiction, autonomous vehicles, is here and now from some of the best minds of our generation as shown via video below this paragraph. Everyone from the expected car companies such as Tesla , Ford , and Volkswagen, to the well known tech giant Google and the transport industry disrupter, Uber, has plans to get into the business of automated vehicles. On its face such an idea sounds amazing, it sounds like something that could change our way of life as we know it – but perhaps that’s the problem, it can and in ways we may not be prepared for.


While automated vehicles seem nothing but positive on the surface, one must only look at the people most immediately impacted by their introduction, the transportation industry. The automated cars of today are owned primarily by automotive and taxi companies who will not need to employ any drivers when the technology is perfected. The world of transportation as we know it today will become a shell of its former self when the idea of automated vehicles comes to fruition. Indeed, the potential exists for human drivers to go the way of the cassette tape with our children growing up and never learning to drive because of the rise of this technology. Uber is already supplanting regular taxis with human drivers, and this trend will only continue as the technology improves and allows Uber to transition to a permanent autonomous fleet.  As we speak Uber is on a trial process in Pittsburgh, Pa with a fleet of mostly autonomous vehicles while Google’s own self driving car continuous to surpass expectations across the board. If all goes as planned, Uber will have fully functioning autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020-2021. However, as with most new and innovative technologies, there are still bugs to be ironed out and changes to be made. Tesla, one of the aforementioned companies leading the way for AV technology experienced a huge setback with the crash of a automated Tesla car and more recently Google suffered a similar setback with one of their automated cars as well.

Despite all this however it is abundantly clear that this is a technology which must be pursued to the fullest extent as the benefits to all of us as a society are limitless. Technology such as the automated vehicle has the potential to not only drive innovation but also to revolutionize the way we all think about the idea of transportation. In the coming posts of the blog the automated vehicle group will be taking a closer look at the various schools of thoughts regarding automated vehicles and how it might be best to prepare for them as well as what effects they may have on all of society. We look forward to seeing you at the next post and potentially hearing what everyone else thinks about this situation in the comments!