Autonomous vehicle technology implementation and commentary since our July 11, 2018 issue has been discouraging. What effect has that had on its projected proliferation dates, and on future taxi and truck driving positions?
First, two recent articles on the state of the field. Slate’s June 13th “How Close Are We to Self-Driving Cars, Really?” stunned me with a subtitle citing Chris Urmson, “who helped pioneer the technology at Google,” claiming “it could be 50 years before we see them everywhere.” 2069! In the first paragraph, we got Urmson, interviewed by April Glaser, giving it “5 to 10 years” for “robots cruising down the road in a handful of cities and towns across the country” (2024-2029), and no less than 30 (2049) for them to be “everywhere.” That’s a far cry from most attitudes we saw as recently as last year. Urmson gave sober views, mostly a compendium of those in print in 2017, and added that maps for autonomous vehicles will need, instead of “where the Safeway is,” exact locations of stoplights, lanes, and right-of-way rules, and that at least some driverless vehicles should be cone-shaped “so you can see all the way around (them) really nearby.” He had unfounded assumptions about people using much more mass transit, but even those fit in with the general idea I got, that we should be wondering if Urmson had been sleeping for two solid years.
The other was Lawrence Ulrich’s June 20th New York Times “Driverless Cars May Be Coming, but Let’s Not Get Carried Away.” Was he saying that’s what the same publication did 20 months ago when it published an entire magazine dedicated to the view that they were certain to happen soon? After appropriately starting with Tesla’s Elon Musk’s ravings that autonomous taxis will be ubiquitous in 2020, Ulrich moved to sources saying that “none of us have any idea,” that “driver-free transport will begin with a trickle, not a flood” (even in cities and parts of same with great emphasis and full sanction?), named one prominent research director saying there is now a “trough of disillusionment,” and that “making a robocar so foolproof that consumers and automakers can trust it with their lives, including one-in-a-billion situations” (necessary even with those 30,000 American-driver-caused annual deaths?) is much harder than demonstrating the likes of ability to make emergency stops. Ulrich then described Cadillac’s Super Cruise semiautonomous-software option, a solid Level 2 product now available on at least one model, which monitors driver alertness but allows pedal and steering-wheel-free driving “on major highways.”
Otherwise, what has happened and, more importantly, what has not happened over the past year? The two events are above – Super Cruise, and pessimistic commentators getting attention. The following, though, did not occur, or if so were not publicized. There was no more driverless implementation in ordinary, wide-open areas. There was no substantial rollout of automated shuttles, even in tightly controlled settings. There was no debate or pushback between those at the front of the field and national, state, or city regulators. There was no widespread use of such vehicles even in the most accommodating and suitable areas, such as Phoenix. There was no evidence of more aggressive implementation in already sanctioned parts of cities, such as San Francisco or Singapore, despite geofencing providing invisible but firm barriers. There was no significant public relations effort to persuade or cut the fears of ordinary people on the technology. I heard nothing about related activity in other countries. And, despite all of these non-happenings, there was no sign of anything like a solid wall of individual resistance or any discussed consensus of regulatory disapproval.
Some things, though, stayed the same. We still had Musk all by himself with hyperoptimism. We had overemphasis on the one fatal accident. We had consortia, alliances, and division of labor. We had vaporware peddlers offering vague and unreasonable promises without product. And we still had technical progress, amount strangely unpublicized.
Taking all this, accepting doubt milder than that from our interviewees above, and realizing that though Super Cruise means good things for Level 2 implementation in particular we are still in real trouble all over, we get:
As before, you can see the level definitions at https://www.techrepublic.com/article/autonomous-driving-levels-0-to-5-understanding-the-differences/, though the document here has been updated. Expect more from Work’s New Age as this issue evolves.