Tag Archives: Autonomous Vehicles

Latest Driverless Vehicle Roadblock: Bicycles

I hope he’s wearing a helmet.

As someone who (perhaps unwisely), likes to bike around New York, I’ve long looked forward to driverless cars. They can’t drive drunk. They won’t drive like reckless teenagers. They won’t threaten to beat me up for ringing my bell (true story).

Even better: they’ll be able to see and avoid me even on a dark and stormy night.

Or so I thought.

As it turns out, bicycles could slow driverless vehicle deployment. Case in point: Holland, land of bicycles.

According to a recent KPMG report, the Netherlands is the country most prepared for autonomous vehicles. The country is actively working to begin autonomous truck platooning on highways; a legal framework has been developed for testing AVs on public roads without a driver; and the country is even preparing a drivers license for AVs.

But whether AVs will ever operate in Holland’s cities is an open question. Because, as an executive quoted in the report put it, “We have a lot of bicycles.” That’s an understatement. According to The Guardian, there are an estimated 22.5 million bicycles for a population of 17 million people.

And unfortunately, as the article notes, bicyclists are unpredictable: “the varying sizes and agility of cyclists, with their sudden changes in speed and loose adherence to the rules of the road, present a major challenge to the [AV] existing technology.”

Such a major challenge, in fact, that KPMG suggests forgetting about ever integrating AVs into a bicycle-heavy environment: just keep AVs and bicyclists separated entirely.

We don’t have as many bicyclists in New York. The city estimates somewhere in the ballpark of 1.5 million casual riders.  But that’s probably enough cycling on our already-crowded, dilapidated streets to put a hold on my dream of a safe, driverless vehicle future. (AVs in Phoenix, meanwhile, have an entirely different problem…)

In the meantime, you would do well to wear a helmet and stop texting!

Ridin’ with the Waymos

In Phoenix last week, I did what insurance folks do in Phoenix. I hunted down an autonomous vehicle. I even took a picture:

The ‘W’ on the rear window stands for Waymo, the Google/Alphabet division that is probably the leader in developing driverless technologies.

Depending on which insurance thought leader you talk to, driverless vehicles will revolutionize our business or destroy it. I’m a skeptic: We will have driverless cars; everyone will use them, but not for another 20-plus years; and they will not be the death of auto insurance.

Google’s not-so-secret testing facility is just south of Phoenix, in Chandler. I couldn’t find it on Google Maps (it’s a secret, surprise surprise), but I could find Chandler City Hall. In an adjoining lot sat three or four bubble-headed Waymos. They are eerily identical Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Each is white. Each has the same bubble brain on the same spot of the hood and the same aqua-and-sea-green W logo. And, though they are white, the desert sun reveals no hint of grime.

I parked across the street and began my stake-out. Continue reading Ridin’ with the Waymos

Automated Vehicle Symposium: Recap

The Automated Vehicle Symposium took place in San Francisco July 9-12.  I.I.I.’s Brent Carris files this report.

Gaining consumer trust is essential to the success of automated vehicle (AV) deployment. It was a point stressed continuously throughout the conference.

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary, Elaine Chao, along with many others, noted that 94 percent of auto accidents occur due to human error. AV control can drastically reduce human error-caused accidents but reaching the “0” level of accidents will be a long work in progress. Joint data sharing by public and private institutions is imperative in the transition to an AV world.

During Secretary Chao’s keynote address, she emphasized the six principles that govern DOT policy for AV technology regulation:

  • Safety is top priority
  • Policies will be flexible and tech-neutral
  • Regulations will be performance based
  • The DOT will collaborate with states and localities
  • The Department will provide stakeholders with assistance to facilitate the safe integration of AV systems into the transportation system, and;
  • The Department recognizes that autonomous vehicles will have to operate side-by-side with traditional vehicles, in both urban and rural areas

Chao briefly discussed insurance, saying “Insurance frameworks are adaptable to the AV world.” Timely data sharing by auto manufacturers and other AV data collectors with insurance companies will be necessary to facilitate proper insurance coverage. Data could be used to establish: Liability in the event of an accident; accurate underwriting and pricing of insurance policies; risk mitigation and control measures. Insurance companies will have to take a proactive approach to ensure timely data sharing and develop consumer perceptions on safety, liability, and coverage for AVs.

In a white paper issued to coincide with the event, the Travelers Institute outlined its views on how autonomous vehicles will change the personal and commercial auto insurance markets.

The DOT announced the third iteration of its Automated Vehicles policy document is slated for release by the end of 2018. The Automated Driving System 2.0: A Vision for Safety was downloaded over 125,000 times since its release in 2017. The 3.0 version will focus on AV development across all modes of transportation – passenger vehicles, trucks, rail, and maritime.

Another important topic was preparing U.S. workers and employers for the automated vehicle future. Lessons from past transitions show that while initial job displacement may occur, full employment eventually returns.

A Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) study estimated that the advent of AVs are projected to increase the unemployment rate to a small degree in the 2030s and to a somewhat larger degree in the late 2040s, with a peak, temporary addition to unemployment rates of 0.06–0.13 percentage points. However, an estimated $800 billion will eventually be gained in annual societal benefits due to accident reduction (economic impact and quality of life improvements), congestion mitigation, reduced oil consumption and from the value of time gained from AV. Many speakers stressed that planning for an AV future should start now.

 

 

Americans are becoming less fearful of driverless vehicles

A survey published last week by AAA found that Americans are warming up to the idea of driverless vehicles with 63 percent of U.S. drivers reporting feeling afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle down significantly from 78 percent in early 2017.

Men (52 percent) are less afraid than women (73 percent) of riding in a self-driving vehicle, and millennials are the least afraid (49 percent).

 “Education, exposure and experience will likely help ease consumer fears as we steer toward a more automated future,” said AAA Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations Director Greg Brannon.

The survey also found that U.S. drivers continue to report high confidence in their own driving abilities. Three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. drivers consider themselves better-than-average drivers. Men tend to be most confident in their driving skills with 8 in 10 considering their driving skills better than average. This is despite of the fact that more than 90 percent of crashes are the result of human error.

 

Autonomous vehicles at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show

At the massive Consumer Electronics (CES) show held in Las Vegas from January 8 – 12, self-driving technology took up much of the spotlight, heralding the unstoppable advent of the era of autonomous cars.

The activity went beyond the convention floor, with Aptiv (formerly Delphi) and Lyft partnering to offer rides in self-driving cars to attendees.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Renault-Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said at a CES press conference: “[We are] going to see complete arrival and mass marketing of autonomous driving in the next six years. … The speed at which mass marketing will happen will not depend only on us. It will depend on country by country to make this a mass marketing phenomenon, not only a prototype… But this is going to happen.”

At the CES Research Summit, AIG’s Lex Baugh, chief executive officer for North America general insurance, said that the company is figuring out how autonomous vehicle risk might involve auto manufacturers, software providers and parts suppliers, as well as infrastructure and communications providers, reports A.M. Best.

Gaurav D. Garg, CEO of global personal insurance at AIG, said that he expects that jury decisions and awards in litigation related to autonomous vehicles will be a part of shaping the future of the technology.

Zurich Insurance Group, is one company looking to get a jump on auto technology advances. Zurich acquired Bright Box HK Ltd., in a move which the company said would increase its capabilities in connected car technologies and mobility and strengthen Zurich’s proposition for car drivers, car dealers and original equipment manufacturer. The acquisition will also facilitate new insurance services leveraging telematics-enabled data analytics.

Self-Driving Cars Still Evolving

A fatal car accident involving a Tesla Model S in autonomous driving mode is drawing widespread scrutiny both in the United States and overseas.

Joshua Brown was killed in May this year when a tractor trailer made a left turn in front of his Tesla and the self-driving car failed to apply the brakes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it is investigating the incident and will examine the design and performance of the automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash.

Its preliminary evaluation of the incident doesn’t indicate any conclusion about whether the Tesla vehicle was defective, the NHTSA said.

In a blog post, Tesla noted that this is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where autopilot was activated:

“Among all vehicles in the U.S., there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.”

Tesla further noted that neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied:

“The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.”

As companies continue to innovate and invest in self-driving technology, the crash indicates that fully automated cars are still a thing of the future.

The crash also raises important concerns over regulation.

According to this New York Times article:

“Even as companies conduct many tests on autonomous vehicles at both private facilities and on public highways, there is skepticism that the technology has progressed far enough for the government to approve cars that totally drive themselves.”

And the Wall Street Journal reports:

“Tesla now risks being the test case that could prompt new safety regulations or laws limiting the deployment of self-driving technology.”

The crash also highlights liability concerns regarding this emerging technology. Most car crashes are caused by human error, but presumably the NHTSA investigation will also evaluate potential product liability on the part of the manufacturer.

The crux of the issue is weighing up the risk of crashes versus crashes avoided via the use of self-driving technology.

As the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) notes:

“As crash avoidance technology gradually becomes standard equipment, insurers will be able to better determine the extent to which these various components reduce the frequency and cost of accidents. They will also be able to determine whether the accidents that do occur lead to a higher percentage of product liability claims, as claimants blame the manufacturer or suppliers for what went wrong rather than their own behavior.”

Liability laws might evolve to ensure autonomous vehicle technology advances are not brought to a halt, the I.I.I. adds.

Residual Auto Market, Meet Self-Driving Cars

Everyone wants to talk about autonomous vehicles, and for proof  I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch  offers the AIPSO Residual Market Forum, at which  he spoke in mid-April.

AIPSO manages most of the automobile residual market, where highest risk drivers get insurance. Each state has a separate plan for handling risky drivers and AIPSO services most of them in one way or another, acting as the linchpin in the $1.4 billion market, about 0.7% of all U.S. auto insurance written in 2013, according to Auto Insurance Report.

Though small, the residual market is important, but it’s not an area that would naturally lend itself to discussing the self-driving car. If cars could drive themselves, of course, there wouldn’t be much of a residual market.

Even so, I was one of three speakers at the forum’s panel exploring industry trends, and at AIPSO’s request, all three of us touched on autonomous cars.

Though he spoke last, Peter Drogan, chief actuary at AMICA Mutual Insurance, probably did the best job of laying out the future technology and some of its challenges. Particularly spooky was a 60 Minutes clip in which a hacker took over a car Lesley Stahl drove over a parking lot test course. She wasn’t driving fast, but she couldn’t stop after the hacker took over the brakes of her car.

Karen Furtado, a partner at Strategy Meets Action, a consultancy that helps insurers plan for the future, laid out the case for disruption. Autonomous vehicles will not only make vehicles safer, they will change driving habits. Fewer cars will be on the road, and more people will share them, summoning self-driving vehicles through ride-sharing apps, all of which could potentially shrink the $180 billion auto insurance market.

I’ve made my thoughts clear before, both in this blog and elsewhere: the technology will change driving forever, but it takes about three decades for auto technology to become common on roadways, giving insurers a lot of time to adjust. And some coverages, like comprehensive, will not be affected, as they protect cars when they aren’t in accidents.

A PowerPoint of my presentation is posted here.

Self-Driving Cars: With or Without You?

We’re reading that self-driving cars are no longer a thing of the future, but it’s in the subhead of this  Time article: how long will it be before your car no longer needs you? where the heart of the story lies.

Jason H. Harper writes of how he earned one of the first new driverless motor licenses  — technically known as an “autonomous vehicle testing” permit  — from the California DMV.

He then describes his chauffeured ride by a prototype Audi from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas for last week’s Consumer Electronics Show:

The car uses an array of sensors, radars and a front-facing camera to negotiate traffic. At this point, the system works only on the freeway and cannot handle construction zones or areas with poor lane markings. When the car reaches a construction zone or the end of a highway, a voice orders you to take the wheel back.”

Before taking the 550-mile road trip, Harper had to get special instruction on how not to drive, per California regulations:

The training included basics like turning the system on and off and learning the circumstances in which it could be used. The rest was about handling emergencies, such as making lane changes to avoid crashing.”

Harper says the training was far more difficult and involved than a regular driving test. However, average buyers will not need such training.

Why?

Because rollout of this technology is gradual. Audi’s program for example would allow the car to self-drive in stop-and-go highway traffic, but when traffic clears the driver takes the wheel again.

It’s at the very end of the article that a voice from academia reminds us that  this  approach may be no bad thing  as  both technology and driver acceptance need time to mature.

Dr. Jeffrey Miller, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, tells Time that in his opinion licenses and drivers will never be obsolete because “the driver will always have to take over in case of a failure.”

It’s an interesting point. From the insurance perspective, too, while self-driving cars are definitely on the way, the  implications for insurers are evolving. In its issue update Self-Driving Cars and Insurance, the I.I.I. notes:

Except that the number of crashes will be greatly reduced, the insurance aspects of this gradual transformation are at present unclear. However, as crash avoidance technology gradually becomes standard equipment, insurers will be able to better determine the extent to which these various components reduce the frequency and cost of accidents.”

And:

They will also be able to determine whether the accidents that do occur lead to a higher percentage of product liability claims, as claimants blame the manufacturer or suppliers for what went wrong rather than their own behavior.”

More on auto insurance here.