Mar 20, 2019

Axios Navigate

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Axios managing editor Alison Snyder has today's 1 big thing and Expert Voices contributors Marjory S. Blumenthal writes about the shared priorities of safety and cybersecurity while Jim Barbaresso examines traffic management for AVs.

1 big thing: Drivers are missing automation common sense

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Drivers are encountering more automation in their cars, but experts say they need more training to better understand and safely use the technologies.

The big picture: Assisted driving features are turning cars into next-generation automated machines — the first ones that many people will be exposed to. How humans and machines learn to interact when driving could indicate how people might work with robots in the future, Axios' Alison Snyder writes.

In the air: Automation has made aviation safer, in part because pilots are educated about how the technology affects their attention and ability to fly.

  • But the FAA is investigating whether pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 were sufficiently trained to deal with new automation in their planes.

In cars, some partially automated technologies — automatic emergency braking and collision detection — provide safety benefits. But it's not yet known if convenience features — for example, lane-keeping assist — are making driving safer.

  • In these systems, the driver is supposed to be engaged and in control even if they aren't steering.
  • But drivers' minds wander, and their ability to refocus and then react takes time.
  • "We're terrible at paying attention — and we think we're awesome at it," says Steve Casner, a research psychologist at NASA who studies how humans interact with automation.
  • He says people's misconceptions about their ability to jump back in when needed along with their misunderstanding of the technologies can lead them to become dangerously disengaged or complacent.

What's needed: In a new paper, Casner argues drivers, like pilots, need education and continuous experience with automation.

  • By focusing on underlying concepts of automation — how it works, the limitations and how it affects our ability to pay attention — Casner says drivers could be educated despite differences between carmakers' technologies.

Yes, but: Unlike professional pilots who are required by law to have regular, rigorous training, drivers' willingness to be trained will vary, according to Consumer Reports' David Friedman.

  • "All the training in the world can't compensate for a poorly designed automation system," says Friedman, who is a former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • "That has been one of the challenges, including with the MAX 8 and a lot of the cars on the road today — they seem to expect the human to adapt to it, instead of a system that takes into account real human beings," he adds.

The bottom line: Understanding how and when to use automation has to become part of our driving culture, Casner says. "We don't have good automation common sense yet."

Go deeper

2. AV safety and cybersecurity go hand in hand

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Safety and cybersecurity are generally pursued by separate teams within AV companies — leaving them in silos that exacerbate their significant challenges and ignore the common benefits, RAND's Marjory S. Blumenthal writes for Axios Expert Voices.

Why it matters: As cars become more complex, a design change to one aspect of the technology could create an unexpected vulnerability in another feature, making it crucial to develop safety and cybersecurity as integrated systems.

Safety: AV standards have yet to be created, so AVs can't demonstrate compliance the way traditional vehicles do. A standardized framework, which could involve simulations or real life driving tests, is needed to measure AV safety.

Cybersecurity: Despite the growing popularity of connected cars, there's no international standard governing vehicle cybersecurity, though the International Organization for Standardization is currently working on it.

A joint approach to standards could optimize safety and cybersecurity and reduce overall risks to AV operation.

  • One example: Traffic signs can be misread by AVs in dangerous ways, and hackers could intentionally make a vehicle misinterpret a stop sign — an attack that would compromise cybersecurity and safety features simultaneously.

The bottom line: The teams developing these systems should be collaborating on this challenge. Improving public trust in AVs, which remains low, will require delivering on promises in both of these critical areas.

Read more

Blumenthal is a senior policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

3. Traffic management tactics ahead of AVs

Times Square, New York City. Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Cities are adopting tolling and closed-loop shuttle buses to mitigate traffic and prepare for AV ride-hailing fleets, which some say could exacerbate urban congestion, writes Jim Barbaresso of infrastructure advisory firm HNTB.

The big picture: Reducing congestion in densely populated, trafficked metro areas will require distributing people more strategically across transit options and routes.

What's happening:

  • New York City recently announced a plan to charge a toll to vehicles entering Manhattan south of 61st Street. The revenue would be used to improve public transit, including the city’s 100-year-old subway system.
  • San Francisco's Treasure Island is the site of a new development that includes 8,000 residential units. Transportation plans include tolling and an autonomous circulator shuttle around the island that connects to public transit.
  • Jacksonville has plans for a fleet of autonomous circulator buses to connect the city’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

What we're watching: Congestion pricing and route optimization software are two tools for managing traffic that could be especially helpful when AVs are eventually deployed, and could complement existing efforts.

The bottom line: Cities will need to take multiple approaches to addressing congestion and encouraging new transportation patterns in advance of AVs. The cities starting to experiment now will likely be best positioned to adapt.

Go deeper

Barbaresso is SVP of intelligent transportation systems at HNTB, an infrastructure advisory firm.

4. Driving the conversation

Trump's view: President Trump hates "crazy" driverless cars (Jonathan Swan and me Axios)

  • The big picture: Most Americans share Trump's view: 71% of U.S. drivers would be afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle, per AAA. Yet his own administration is encouraging AV development by removing barriers and issuing voluntary guidance instead of regulations.
  • For Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the challenge amid heightened fears about automation is to manage safety concerns while promoting U.S. innovation.

It's complicated: Trump unsettles the auto sector (Jonathan Swan and me — Axios)

  • Why it matters: Trump wants to restore American auto manufacturing to what he considers its mid-20th-century greatness, according to aides. But his ideas for saving the industry are creating angst for its top execs.

Virtual testing: Nvidia Drive Constellation is an online training ground for autonomous vehicles (Antuan Goodwin — CNET)

  • Why it matters: AVs are taking over this week's Nvidia GTC conference in San Jose, where CEO Jensen Huang highlighted his company's growing automotive capabilities, including its new Drive Constellation platform for AV simulation and validation.
5. That shared car smell


Nobody wants to ride in a dirty, smelly car — especially a shared robotaxi where there is no human driver to clean it up. Luckily, AVs might be outfitted with olfaction sensors to help sniff out problems quickly.

What's happening: Denso, one of the world's largest auto suppliers, is teaming up with France's Aryballe Technologies, which develops bio-inspired “digital nose” sensors for multiple industries, as founding members of a new Digital Olfaction Automotive Consortium (DOAC).

  • The consortium will establish standards for odor measurement in AVs and create a reference database for smells that includes everything from cigarettes to fuel leaks.

Why it matters: When drivers give up their personal cars and instead become passengers in unmanned AVs, their ride experience could be determined, in part, by whether fleet operators are properly maintaining those cars.

Humans can sense an average of 1 trillion odors, according to Science magazine, so cataloguing them in a database could take some time.

My thought bubble: But I'm guessing nobody wants to smell any of them in an autonomous vehicle.