Toronto, Ontario -- August 7th, 2017 -- In this week's AV Report, human claims adjusters go extinct, the problem of AV obsolescence, the possible heightened severities of injuries in AVs and much, much more!
- A story in the Detroit Free Press reports on University of Michigan (U of M) scientists who are “researching what happens to humans when their vehicles decide on their own to avoid a crash.” One of the discoveries: “when passengers unexpectedly had the brakes slammed, they pitched forward as much 8 inches despite wearing a seat belt in the front passenger seat.” According to the researchers, “That's a significant amount of movement while being restrained and has implications as an increasing number of vehicles employ emergency braking and other types of self-driving technology.” Or, to put it another way, travelers in an AV who are not watching the road may be more intensely affected in an accident than those who get a few seconds of warning. A source in the story stated, “The research could be used to help design features that automatically adjust seat belts or send out a warning sound before the brakes are applied or before the vehicle maneuvers to avoid a crash.”
The research project is being run in collaboration with Toyota's Collaborative Safety Research Center in Ann Arbor. That same center is funding a batch of self-driving research centres, all of which seem to have suddenly appeared from out of nowhere.
- Allstate just held its second quarter conference call. During that call, CEO Tom Wilson stated that Allstate said the company has been able to lay off more than 500 claims adjusters as the insurer goes ahead with its previously announced "digitization of the claims process." These technologies make use of artificial intelligence (AI), a technology considered key to the emergence of true AVs. But AI is finding use throughout the economy, including in the insurance claims sector. A few weeks back the AV Report discussed a Chinese version of this software. It seems the technology has already arrived in North America. According to a report about the recent Allstate conference call, “Severance payments to the downsized claims adjusters were part of $52 million in restructuring expenses reported in Allstate's second-quarter financial results.”
The story notes, “The QuickFoto Claim system, accessed via the Allstate mobile app, enables customers to submit claims electronically by taking photos of their collision-damaged vehicles. Once customers submit a claim using QuickFoto, they can expect to receive an estimate and a phone call from the insurer within 24 hours. QuickFoto now processes around half of the insurer's claims for drivable vehicles.”
The story also states that Allstate recently opened two "digital operating centres" to process the digital claims submitted by policyholders. According to an Allstate executive quoted in the piece, "That has led to the shutdown of many of our drive-in claim centres, and has reduced the need for field adjusters, since we took a lot of that inefficiency out of the system. We now have our adjusters looking at enhanced photos and digital photos, in the computers without having to drive to and from the sites.”
Allstate is also said to be, “making payments directly to customers' debit cards and using drones to assess roof damage.” As well, Allstate is now using a, “video-chat app called Virtual Assist to review supplements with collision repairers.” That is, according to the Allstate exec, “instead of having to schedule an adjuster to come back out to the bodyshop and look at supplemental damage, we now use the video-chat technology same day, and we move it along. So everybody's happy: The customer get their car back sooner, the bodyshop gets the car up on their lift sooner and they take another car in. And we are reducing rental-car time and improving customer satisfaction." According to the exec, “Allstate's use of digital technology has shortened the estimating cycle from five to seven days to 'under 24 hours'."
- A report out of the UK cites a report put out by insurers in that country that looks at interesting issue around AVs. Apparently UK insurers are worried that, “at least in the short-term, AVs could make driving riskier because people don't yet understand the technology or just how it works.” According to the media report, UK auto insurers call this "autonomous ambiguity." The study cited by the reporter is a new white paper from the Association of British Insurers that argues, “drivers don't understand the limitations of these semi-autonomous systems, and believe their car is more capable than it really is.”
The insurers claim they are in support of AV technology, they're just concerned that in the technology's early days the differences between the various systems being installed in cars could cause confusion among drivers. According to the media story, “Systems differ, as do their capabilities. Automakers have varying ideas on how best to implement the technology, and because there are no standards, drivers can't be sure how a particular system works. And it's not like automakers are in a rush to explain what these semi-autonomous systems can't do – their flashy adverts typically highlight how clever they are.” This is a good point. Automakers are rushing out various systems. The average person is just now barely familiar with these advanced and complex technologies. With is in mind, “... the Association of British Insurers suggests a simple, two-stage, classification for cars—assisted or automated—and says international regulators should get on board.” The proposal is that an 'automated car' be considered one that, “is capable of driving itself in virtually all situations, comes to a stop safely if it cannot drive itself, avoids every conceivable crash and continues working even if something in the system fails.
Few people expect the automotive industry to reach that level of autonomy at a large scale for at least another decade. And that means just about every vehicle with any kind of autonomous tech will be labeled 'assisted.' Automakers do seem to be throttling back some of their early claims about AVs. The story notes that in the wake of the Tesla crash last summer that killed Joshua Brown carmakers have, “increased visual and auditory cues when drivers take their hands off the wheel for too long.” Cadillac has gone so far as to ensure that in the case of its, “... first truly hands-off semi-autonomous system... the system monitors drivers using a camera behind the steering wheel to ensure they're looking up at the road, not down at their phone.” Which kind of seems to obviate the entire point of AV tech, but who are we to say.
- An article in a business trade press publication talks about the rise of AVs in factories and warehouses. The bots being used in workspaces are called automated guided vehicles (AGVs). According to the article, the “robotics service market” is growing fast. Some have predicted robots could be performing, “45 percent of all manufacturing tasks by 2025, compared to 10 percent in 2015.” The article notices that one of the relatively few players in this space is a Canadian company, Clearpath Robotics, a start up focused on, “developing autonomous vehicles that move goods around factories.” A source in the article is quoted as saying, "The U.S. is a big market for growth because there aren't many people doing these type of projects there.”
- Consumers have become used to the rapid cycle of development and obsolescence in the digital gaming PC and Smartphone world. But will consumers bring that same tolerance to the world of AVs? An article in the press this week points out that, “it looks like self-driving car technology will be one of the fastest-moving areas of innovation... Only one problem with that: people don't buy cars anywhere near as often as the oncoming cascade of upgrades will arrive, and if each of those requires us to buy a new car, there'll be a great deal of discontent.” The story appears a week after the release of the new Audi that is the world's first Level 3 AV. According to the article, “The new Audi can park and pull out without a driver inside, and it can be completely autonomous when driven on a highway at moderate speed, and with plenty of other cars around to help it orient itself.”
But many companies plan on having Level 4 self-driving cars on the road by 2025, “which means Audi is expecting its $100,000 flagship 2018 car to be obviated in seven years or fewer. The car that's sold on the strength of being the most technologically advanced today will also be the car that's superseded fastest...” Will consumers be okay when the most expensive consumer item is going out of style as fast as their iPhone? We're about to find out.
- Of course, it might also be that the introduction of higher-level AVs will be stalled—and for reasons far beyond simple technical concerns. This week a couple news reports noted that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the union representing truckers) is, “fighting tooth-and-nail against the legal implementation of autonomous trucks in the US.” Apparently last week the Teamsters successfully lobbied Congress, “to place a 10,000 pound weight-limit on current driverless vehicle legislation.” That is, AV trucks of the sort that Otto is building were just banned. According to a report, “The legislation represents a rare example of bipartisanship under the current administration; it passed with a vote of 54-0.” But it also seems, according to the story, that “the only thing keeping human drivers in the trucking business right now is politics, and the Teamsters are pulling out all of the stops to protect union members. On the Teamsters website you'll find links to studies stating most people are reluctant to embrace driverless cars.
This is in contradiction to others, which claim the opposite. The Teamsters also speculate robots will cause hazardous waste problems if human truckers are replaced.”
Canadians don't seem to harbour the same worries the Teamsters do. A recent poll released by Abacus Data found that, "89 percent of Canadians agreed 'technological change has been good for the world'.” Another 76 percent agreed that “technological change has been good for my own economic well-being'.”