Update from the Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) Conference

Brookstreet Hotel, Kanata North
September 9-10, 2019
By John Neale

Many of us have heard about self-driving cars. We have all seen commercials by car manufacturers touting their new car’s ability to stay in the lane or detect hazards with their proximity alerts! Many will even force the car to stop. I was driving a new Ford Fusion hybrid that my wife had as a loaner and it told me that I was tired and needed to take a rest! Most of these vehicles are using proprietary technology, but as these cars become more connected to the “cloud” there will be an increasing need for interface standards to connect them to the network.  This is supposed to be coming with L5 level of CAV standards.

What is the future of CAV? How soon will fully autonomous vehicles (L5) be on the road? Some experts in the field think L5 is 15 to 30 years out. Others feel that the L5 vehicles will come much sooner. The economic incentive comes from eliminating the need for a driver. That is the main incentive for companies like Uber who want to have fleets of self-driving cars. Government, on the other hand, is more interested in making the roads safer and having fewer accidents. That is already being partially achieved through L1 to L4. Sociologists hope that advent of self-driving cars will improve access to employment opportunities by making our suburbs more accessible. Urban Planners hope that these vehicles will free up urban space since 65% of our urban space is currently dedicated to infrastructure that supports (mainly) automobile transportation. Current thinking is that private ownership of vehicles will become a thing of the past. Afterall, we only use our private vehicles 1.8% of the time (on average). Do we really want such an expensive asset that we use so infrequently?

Research has shown that drivers of new cars do not fully understand their safety features. In fact, drivers tend to take more risks and assume that their new car is safer and that it will automatically compensate for poor driving and hazards. Due to the current proprietary nature of technological development, we are in the “wild west” phase of CAV development at the L2 and L3 level of standards pertaining to the utilization of data from OBD (on-Board Data) interfaces and AVI (Autonomous Vehicle Interfaces). Cars are now becoming digital platforms with all the cyber-security challenges that come with that. Standards are lagging but will be increasingly important once autonomous vehicles become more connected to communications networks. ISO21434 will provide new standards for cyber-security compliance in 2020. New OBD standards are probably five years out. Also, standards will need to be developed for L5 CAV which is more infrastructure and network driven.  Ottawa has the first L5 test facility in North America near Woodroffe & Hunt Club. Government bodies such as Transport Canada, the Transportation Association of Canada and the Canadian Council of Transportation Administrators and the Transportation Safety Board as well as provincial bodies will need to collaborate with industry and government bodies both domestically and internationally to develop standards for AVIs. More and more, these AVI standards will be infrastructure led and less dependent on the proprietary functionality of individual vehicles and their manufacturers. Many governments all over the world are creating cross-silo task forces to manage the many issues raised by CAV.

Insurance companies are also interested in CAV standards and legislation. Will CAV vehicles ever be eligible for a no-fault insurance claim, or will it become an issue of product liability? Legislation needs to be nimble enough to keep up with the pace of technological evolution. In the words of one panelist, “It will be best if legislation comes first. Otherwise it will be a real mess!”  Nevertheless, insurance companies remain cautiously optimistic that CAV should improve the safety of vehicles and reduce the number of accidents and fatalities often caused by distracted driving.

CAV is a complex area with an uncertain implementation timeline. Suffice it to say that there is no turning back and Kanata North companies such as Blackberry’s QNX Division and Nokia are major players. However, CAV will only reduce congestion if people forgo individual car ownership and move towards a vehicle ride-share mindset.  CAV will only benefit society if standards, legislation and industry facilitate a framework for CAV evolution, collaboration and improved socio-economic access to transport. CAV’s development will need to address a host of privacy, liability, safety, and economic issues. It is quite likely that the first truly autonomous applications will continue to be on roads and routes specially designed to support these vehicles. Therefore campus applications and possibly truck convoys are likely to be the first to roll-out.

However, the future of transportation will not revolve exclusively around CAV. Other modes of transportation will also appear. There will be a push for new forms of urban transportation, such as urban air mobility, where little infrastructure development is required. These will be electric planes with vertical take-off and landing capability such as those being developed by ASX. They will be much more efficient than helicopters. Magnetically levitated trains in vacuum tubes are also on the horizon and already in use in some parts of the world. Suffice it to say that our transportation systems are ripe for disruption and big changes lie ahead!