When 20 automakers announced this spring they would include Automated Emergency Braking Systems as standard equipment in all cars, they effectively standardized autonomous vehicle technology, an expert said in Chicago Monday.
Currently offered as an option on some cars, automated braking systems use many of the same components as fully autonomous vehicles, said Jim Barbaresso, national practice leader for intelligent transportation systems at the infrastructure design firm HNTB. So as they become standard in all cars, the cost of autonomous technology will drop.
“This is incredible because this is really a key function of autonomous vehicles, the ability to stop the car before crashing into another car in front of you,” Barbaresso said at a forum sponsored by Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance. “And because it’s going to be in every model of vehicle, it’s going to be affordable to the masses.”
Cars with automatic braking systems use radar, lasers, or cameras to monitor the distance to objects ahead, and when those objects get too close, they warn the driver, slow the car or stop automatically.
“The price point for the sensors and everything else that is integrated into an autonomous car is really coming down fast,” said Barbaresso, who also serves as a director of the Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress.
Lidar sensors used on Google’s autonomous vehicles have dropped in price from $75,000 less than a decade ago to perhaps $5,000, with models below $500 in development. When automakers incorporate them in every new model, those prices should plummet further.
“It’s going back to the days of Henry Ford, when he was making a car—at that point a horseless carriage—that was affordable to everybody,” Barbaresso said, noting that automakers adopted the autonomous braking standard ”without any regulation or rule making.”
The 20 automakers reached a voluntary agreement in March with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that ”accounts for 99.6 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S.,” according to NHTSA head Mark Rosekind.
They set a deadline of 2022 to allow automakers to incorporate the braking systems in the design cycle for new models, but automakers are expected to include the systems in any models that emerge before then. They’ll be merging onto roads with fully autonomous vehicles expected to be in widespread use as soon as 2018.
The participating automakers are Audi, BMW, Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla Motors Inc., Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.
The Active Transportation Alliance organized Monday’s forum to look critically at potential negative impacts that driverless cars might have on walking, biking, public transit and suburban sprawl.
“If we make driving so easy,” said Ron Burke, director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “For example, you can sleep in the back of your car, you can eat breakfast while you’re driving. Generally if you make driving more easy people will drive more. And so what does that mean for cities if that scenario plays out?”
But most panelists were bullish on autonomous vehicles, predicting they will create more space and safer conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, and they will make public transit more accessible by closing the problematic “first and last mile” between transit stops and riders’ destinations.
The most critical speaker was DePaul University Professor Joe Schwieterman, who said more commuters have been using public transit in recent years because connectivity and technology allow them to be productive on buses and trains. Driverless cars will now share that advantage.
“The biggest opportunity cost of driving is being unproductive,” Schwieterman said, “and suddenly that time becomes available to be productive time, so I’m real nervous about what this all could mean for the marginal commuter surveying whether to drive or use transit.”
But Schwieterman softened as other speakers—Sharon Feigon of the Shared-Use Mobility Center and Ron Henderson of the Illinois Institute of Technology—extolled the potential benefits of shared electric driverless cars: reduced cost, reduced congestion, reduced emissions, increased space, increased safety, and increased mobility for the poor, the infirm and the elderly.
“There’s something American about getting in the car, going where I want, I can get in the car and you can’t tell me where I can go, you can’t charge me per mile, this is my right,” Schwieterman said at one point.
“But I do see,” he said moments later, “how eventually we’ll see intercity bus service, van service, roving autonomous vehicles sort of feed into this mobility network, and that could be a really democratic thing, I suppose, where you could get around without any car ownership at all.”