The Autonomous Report: Mass introduction of AVs won’t occur for ‘20 years or more’

Magna is the latest Canadian company to enter the AV world, with it's Max4 Autonomous Driving Platform. The company has focused on making the self-driving equipment nearly invisible.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario — September 10, 2017 — In this week’s Autonomous Report, we look into why experts at the Technology in Motion conference say we won’t see a mass rollout of true autonomous vehicles (AVs) for at least 20 years, the “lack of respect” between Silicon Valley and Detroit, how AVs will change the real estate market and much, much more!

– If various reports in the media this week are to be believed it’s going to be decades until the AV age is fully upon us. One of these reports covered off an interesting panel discussion that took place in downtown Detroit recently. According to a report by Crains Detroit the event, Technology in Motion, was meant to, “… showcase Southeast Michigan and the automotive technology industry’s role in shaping connected cars and other new forms of mobility.”

The various panel discussions included experts and business leaders talking about the coming world of automated vehicles. One notion mentioned by a panel member was this: before these vehicles hit the roads in mass quantities, “… they must be able to communicate with each other, surroundings and people.” According to Kay Stepper, an executive with Robert Bosch, “One must not forget that we need to build these foundations first.”

Another panel member, Carla Bailo of Ohio State University, predicted that, “The first thing to come is driverless shuttles on short, predictable routes …” Both Ohio State and the University of Michigan are implementing such routes this fall. Other panelists said that the mass introduction of true AVs likely won’t occur for “… 20 years or more,” according to the report. Speakers predicted that before true AVs appear cars will be, “… speaking to each other through onboard devices and connected cars will share the road with traditionally driven ones.”

Stepper of Bosch was quoted as saying that, “highly automated” cars could be available within 10 years. These cars will be able to drive on most roads, but, “… must always have a driver ready to take back control if necessary … in 10 years all vehicles should be connected. That alone will help with the fatalities and some of the safety issues. That’s the first step, if we can at least understand where we all are.”

– The former Chief Technology Officer of Waymo, Chris Urmson, took part in a podcast prepared by technology publication Recode. He said much progress is still necessary before AVs are a reality. “It’s humbling, as someone working in this space, how easy some of these tasks are for humans to do, and how hard they are to actually get software and technology to solve,” he said.

Urmson also talked about the “lack of respect” that Detroit and Silicon Valley have for each other. “It’s very easy for Silicon Valley to look at the car companies and say, ‘Oh my goodness, they’re so slow, we’re going to disrupt them.’ And then it’s very easy for the car companies to say, ‘Oh my goodness, look at the Silicon Valley guys. They’re so seat-of-the-pants, how could they actually do anything big and complicated?’ Obviously, both of those statements are completely false,” said Urmson.

– The Globe and Mail did a big piece on the various projects Canadian companies are undertaking in terms of AVs. The latest Canadian entry into this area is auto parts supplier Magna, which launched its Max4 Autonomous Driving Platform last week. The other big Canadian player in the space, according to the story, is Blackberry QNX.

According to the article, “Canada could reap US$65 billion in potential benefits from autonomous vehicle developments, mainly from fewer collisions, less time in cars, fuel savings and reduced congestion, according to a 2015 report from the Conference Board of Canada.” That said, John Wall, the head of Blackberry QNX is quoted as saying that, “I think truly autonomous is many, many years away.”

– It wouldn’t be a week in 2017 without some kind of big picture think-piece on what a future full of AVs will look like. This week it was a picture of the future of the real estate industry. According to a report on Business Insider, “Prime real estate will be unlocked for new home construction as parking lots, auto dealerships and gas stations become obsolete. Additional supply in historically supply constrained locations will likely dampen home price appreciation and alleviate housing shortages in many cities … Due to increased housing supply in good locations, there will initially be less demand for outlying locations, even though commutes will be easier … Get ready for more homes per acre, with the days of wide streets, massive driveways, and two-/three-car garages a thing of the past.”

The report goes on to say that, “Builders will be able to get significantly higher density, and consumers will be buying a home where 100 percent of the square footage is truly livable. We’re already seeing apartment developers shifting to zero parking.” As well, “Construction costs should decline as transportation costs plummet for moving building products from manufacturing facilities/warehouses to new home construction sites … Construction timelines should also improve for home builders as the transportation of building products becomes a 24/7 operation handled by AVs,” according to the story.

– Advances in artificial intelligence will obviously have significant impacts on the timelines needed to see a wide-scale AV rollout. A major feature this week in the New York Times talked about the AI efforts at Google and how the tech giant is using “machine learning” to improve Google’s Translate function. This tool works remarkably well now compared to just a few years ago.

According to the Times article, Translate has, “… become one of Google’s most reliable and popular assets; it serves more than 500 million monthly users in need of 140 billion words per day in a different language.”

Learning-based programs are key to AVs as well. There is, apparently, a gold rush underway for young computer scientists working on machine learning and AI. “Corporate promises of resources and freedom have thinned out top academic departments. It has become widely known in Silicon Valley that Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive of Facebook, personally oversees, with phone calls and video-chat blandishments, his company’s overtures to the most desirable graduate students. Starting salaries of seven figures are not unheard-of,” according to the Times story.

– According to an article on Wired, Vladimir Putin told an audience of 16,000 students at the beginning of the school year, “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” According to the report, “Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence.” The story goes on to say, “All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.”

As the story notes, “China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine. Another partner in the project is Beihang University, a leading center in military drones blocked from exporting certain items by the US Department of Commerce due to national security concerns.”

Baidu, of course, has also been active in the AV field. The company has made a flurry of announcements of late, including a promise to have an AV “on the road” in two years.


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