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Autonomous vehicles need “political engineering”: speaker

Posted: October 5, 2016 by John G. Smith

LAS VEGAS, NV — Advances in technology are bringing autonomous vehicles closer to reality, but first they will have to overcome some significant government-related barriers.

“We’re talking about technology that is here and ready to roll,” said John Bozzella, president and CEO of Global Automakers, during a keynote presentation at the American Trucking Associations’ management conference and exhibition. Peloton is developing platooning systems, Otto is retrofitting autonomous vehicles, and Daimler is showcasing fully autonomous trucks. Other truck and system manufacturers are running experiments of their own. “We can save time. We can save fuel. We can save money. And most importantly, we can save lives,” he said.

In Tampa, Florida, autonomous vehicles are seen as a potential solution to congestion. Columbus, Ohio is looking at how coordinating vehicle speeds could keep everyone moving through managed traffic lights. In Wyoming, the question is how savings can be realized with autonomous vehicles on I-80. Pittsburgh is running an experiment with the Uber ride-sharing service.

But not every jurisdiction is a fan. Enthusiasm about autonomous vehicles has been dampened by news of a fatal collision in Florida that involved a self-driving Tesla, which was unable to identify the white side of a trailer. Chicago politicians have since mused about banning the vehicles outright.

 “We need clear running rules,” Bozzella said. “Certainty spurs investment and activity, and gets us to critical mass. The [U.S.] Department of Transportation sent a proposed rule on connected vehicles to the White House, where it seems to have been caught up in a bureaucratic and special-interest quagmire.”

Meanwhile, cable companies and other commercial interests want to repurpose the communications spectrum that has been set aside for autonomous vehicles. “The spectrum for electronic truck platooning could be lost,” he warned, referring to the way connected vehicles could travel in tighter packs to improve fuel economy. “We’re looking at how we might share these airwaves without interference, but we need tests to confirm this. The danger is the [Federal Communications Commission] could rush this judgement, ignore the testing, and take their faster downloads over saving lives on our roadways.”

 “We’ve come to a critical navigation point,” he said. “What we need to do is the much more difficult, thorny, and nasty area of political engineering.”

There are still questions about assigning liability if something goes wrong, and who owns the created data. Governments have been slow to react to other issues, too. Positive Train Control, promised to be a reality this year, still does not have the radio spectrum assigned.

“I have one request of you today. One ask. Join these efforts,” he told the assembled crowd of fleet executives. “For all the public’s fascination with cars that drive themselves, that is not the whole story.”

 

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