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This week Expert Voices contributors Henry Claypool writes about the growing demand for accessible transportation and Yossi Vardi sleuths out suspicious AV behavior.
1 big thing: How to use assisted-driving tech
Technology in today's cars can make driving safer — but it can also be dangerous if not used properly.
Why it matters: Self-driving cars don't exist yet, but many people still confuse today's driver-assist technologies with self-driving capability. Understanding how these systems can steer, brake and accelerate — and when not to rely on them — could help people learn to trust fully automated vehicles when they finally arrive.
The big picture: Many new cars now come with standard assisted-driving features that have been proven to make driving safer. Other safety options are available in technology packages tacked on for an average $1,950.
- Gimmicky marketing names can make it hard to discern what features a car has and how they work.
- 40% of Americans wrongly think a partially automated driving system like Autopilot, ProPilot or Pilot Assist means it can drive the car itself, AAA found.
- Relying too heavily on these features has resulted in avoidable crashes and dangerous incidents that threaten to undermine public confidence in self-driving cars.
Here's what you need to know to navigate the confusion...
1. Automation features control certain driving tasks, under prescribed circumstances.
- Adaptive cruise control (which maintains a safe distance from the car ahead) and lane-keeping assist (which nudges you back in your lane) are examples.
- Roll them together and you get highway-driving assistance technologies like Cadillac's Super Cruise (see my review below) or Tesla's Autopilot.
- Most of these partially automated technologies require drivers' hands on the wheel intermittently. Super Cruise is hands-off, but uses a camera to ensure drivers stay alert.
2. Collision mitigation features help to avoid or lessen the severity of impact.
- Automatic emergency braking detects potential collisions and automatically applies the brakes if the driver doesn't react fast enough.
- In 2016, 20 automakers committed to make AEB standard on all vehicles by 2022 because of its life-saving benefits.
3. Collision alert features act like a second pair of eyes to help detect and warn of potential dangers, but leave it to the driver to react.
- Blind-spot warnings usually pop up in the side view mirror to let drivers know of cars in adjacent lanes.
- Lane-departure warnings usually sound an alert if the car is drifting out of the lane.
- Forward-collision warnings usually flash a sudden message on the dash or windshield to pay attention.
- Rear cross-traffic warnings sound an alarm when oncoming traffic is detected while backing out of a driveway or parking space.
2. The market for accessible AVs is growing
Ride-sharing options are scarce for people who use wheelchairs or have other travel limitations — and the need is likely to grow as the U.S. population ages, health policy expert Henry Claypool writes for Axios Expert Voices.
Why it matters: AV companies could expand travel options for as many as 15.4 million people who can afford to use ride-sharing services but have limited opportunities.
Background: Research commissioned by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) found that of the 18.5 million Americans with travel limitations (5.7% of the U.S. population), between 11.2 million and 15.4 million can afford ride-sharing options.
- But this set of people — which includes people with impaired vision, people with epilepsy, older adults and people who use mobility devices — is desperately underserved.
Where it stands: Even in large metropolitan areas, the current supply of wheelchair-accessible vehicles is too low to provide reliable, on-demand transportation. This lack of supply cuts across public transit, private transportation companies like Uber, and taxi services.
- VW, Toyota and Renault have concept AVs that could accommodate wheelchair users.
- Accessibility features for people with impaired vision that are embedded in the Android and iOS smartphone operating systems, along with application developer tools, could be programmed into human-machine interfaces in AVs.
What we're watching: The U.S. wheelchair-using population is expected to grow 120% by 2022, and the Census Bureau projects that by 2030 an additional 21.5 million Americans over age 55 will need alternatives to driving themselves.
Claypool is a policy expert affiliated with UCSF and AAPD, and a former director of the U.S. Health and Human Services Office on Disability.
3. Sniffing out bad behaviors to secure AVs
Recent hacks of connected vehicles can teach AV developers how to design cybersecurity measures that are cued by anomalies in vehicle behavior, writes Yossi Vardi, CEO of cybersecurity startup SafeRide.
Why it matters: Today's connected vehicles lack adequate security systems, and AVs will have far more vulnerabilities, raising the stakes even higher.
AV systems are more multifaceted, creating new vulnerabilities, particularly with vehicle-to-everything connectivity in place. They also have more sensors, and when sensor data is uploaded to servers, that creates another point of vulnerability.
What’s needed: So far, manufacturers have responded by issuing security updates for vehicles — but a proactive system that can anticipate and prevent attacks will be imperative for AV safety. One strategy — being explored by companies like SafeRide Technologies, Vectra, PerimeterX, and ExtraHop — is to examine malware behavior.
- A behavior-based security system could be triggered by anomalies that result from malware, rather than detecting malware itself. Triggers could include an upload to a sensor server with fewer or more bytes than typically expected or superfluous computer activity registered by the engine control unit.
What to watch: Behavior-based security systems must have the capability to learn vehicle behavior independently, without dependency on every software or hardware vendor, and regardless of data formats.
- Since that would require computing power that only advanced, high-end vehicles have onboard, most cars would need to rely on network bandwidth to run the detection program on the cloud.
4. Driving the conversation
Org chart: The 250 ‘Cruisers’ Who Power GM’s Self-Driving Car Unit (Amir Efrati— The Information (Subscription required)
- Between the lines: If you're into reading org charts to decipher who has the power in an organization, you'll find lots to chew on here. Considering both autos and tech are notoriously male-dominated, Cruise at least has more women in engineering management roles than Waymo does. It's still not enough, as Automotive News' 2017 survey on sexism in the auto industry found.
People news: GM appoints marketing veteran to lead Maven (Michael Wayland — Automotive News)
- The big picture: GM's mobility brand, launched in 2016 as a car-sharing service offering short-term rentals from a GM-owned fleet, is still searching for its footing in a fast-evolving market. The new boss, GM veteran Sigal Cordeiro, needs to help GM find sources of revenue for mobility as a service.
Green means go: Audi expanding regions where drivers can 'ride the green wave' (Larry P. Vellequette — Automotive News)
- Why it matters: Audi's Green Light Optimized Speed Advisory technology uses the position of the vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to tell the driver how much time remains before the light will turn green. It also recommends a speed so they can reduce the number of times they must stop for lights.
- Smoothing out speeds will help reduce congestion and bottlenecking, especially when AVs arrive.
5. What I'm driving
This week I'm driving the 2019 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise, GM's automated highway-driving technology.
Why it matters: Ignore the fact that GM plans to kill the CT6 sedan in favor of more popular crossovers and SUVs. What's important is that the Super Cruise technology will live on in all new Cadillacs starting in 2020.
How it works: Super Cruise is a partially automated system that combines adaptive cruise control and lane-centering technology to drive hands-free on pre-mapped interstate highways.
My thought bubble: I was anxious to try Super Cruise again after a moderately frightening experience more than a year ago when the car got confused and lurched to the left and back again when it couldn't find the lane markings as I began to drive across a bridge.
What we're seeing: This time, it performed brilliantly on my trip to Detroit Metro Airport to pick up my sister. She was surprised when I took my hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals, but relaxed in no time.
- What really impressed her (and me) was the way Super Cruise handled congestion through a construction zone where the lanes got narrow.
- I never touched the controls, and the car slowed to a complete stop then rolled along until traffic cleared and it resumed the set speed of 66 mph.
The bottom line: Consumer Reports rated Super Cruise better than automated driving systems from Tesla, Nissan and Volvo because it’s the only one that includes a camera inside the car to monitor driver attentiveness.