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The AV Report: July 6, 2018

Toronto prepares for project that would see driver-less buses transport commuters
Toronto, Ontario — July 6, 2018 — In this week’s AV Report: A collision repair shop mocks AVs in a television commercial, the TTC launches a study of AVs, the risk-based evaluations that could make auto insurers relevant in the world of AVs and much, much more!
 
This is fantastic: A collision repair shop in the U.S. has produced a television commercial that pokes fun at some of the glitches that have been discovered in self-driving cars. Hilarious! And well done too. https://bit.ly/2lXVYd6
 
According to several news reports out of the world’s worst designed city, Toronto, “Two years from now the bus that commuters take to their nearest TTC station may be missing a familiar feature — a driver.” The Toronto Transit Commission getting set to perform a pilot project that would see driver-less shuttles move people to and from transit stops. According to a local media report, the $1.2-million project could launch in 2020. A report is to be released to the city’s public works committee soon. Several of the media stories noted that, according to a recent study, “Toronto has the worst commute in North America and the sixth worst in the world.” The traffic is ridiculously bad. The downtown has densified over the last decade, causing jammed roads and transit infrastructure. Clearly, city fathers are hoping AVs can get the city out of its mess. The report is said to suggest the proposed large golf cart-like AVs could help fix, “… a broken, dangerous city.” According to one of the media reports, “The pilot would use pre-existing driverless shuttles that would seat up to 12 people, travel at low speeds, and most likely run on electric power… The City of Toronto intends to partner with the TTC and Metrolinx for the pilot. It would also be funded in part by Transport Canada with a grant of up to $365,000.” As well, “During the pilot, ‘ambassadors’ from the TTC or Metrolinx would always be on board and ready to take control of the vehicle.” https://bit.ly/2IZZkoF
 
A major feature in the American business magazine Forbes, asks, “Can you picture the day when your car insurance bill drops every month?” According to the story, this could very well happen as manufacturers of AVs take over the car insurance business. The story is a fairly basic take on the debate that’s been going on around the role of auto insurance for more than a year now. That is, the story is a bit late to the game, but it’s a good primer on how it is those in the conversation see the terms of the debate. Turns out the makers of AVs have several powerful incentives to take over the auto insurance industry. According to the Forbes article, “The cost, and even the availability, of car insurance could be a deterrent when purchasing an autonomous vehicle for consumers, as well as the new generation of ‘taxi’ companies. Today’s incumbent car insurance companies do not have statistical tables for accidents and fatalities for self-driving cars since self-driving cars are not yet in circulation. As a consequence, they are likely to be conservative and set high initial costs for insuring autonomous vehicles.” Insurance companies that don’t have the data would end up having to charge too much for insurance on AVs to be practical. The companies that do have the data are the manufacturers of AVs. As the columnist puts it, “By contrast, [self-driving car makers] will have the next best thing to real-life statistics — they have data centers full of data not only about accidents but also about near misses (albeit for their own cars only). This means they can generate accurate statistics about accidents of their own cars as often as they want and thus estimate the cost to insure their cars. An SDCM will be able to turn a barrier to adoption into a potential sale.” There is a lot of money on the table, Automobile insurance industry revenues were $259 billion in 2017. This. “… in and of itself, provides ample motivation for the self-driving car manufacturers to enter this market,” according to the article. The AV makers will be able to drive down the cost of insurance by progressively improving the software used by cars. “Since self-driving cars will only be commercialized once SDCMs have proved that they are safer than human-driven cars, at that point in time, SDCMs will be in a position to compute the exact probabilities of accidents and their cost because they will have all the data in their data centers. However, auto insurance will not disappear, because self-driving cars won’t eliminate all accidents… Finally, since the price of insurance will be determined by how smart the autonomous driving system is, each time the car manufacturer (or the vendor of the autonomous driving software) publishes a new release, the cost of insurance could come down.” https://bit.ly/2IPXaIi
 
Another possibility for the future of auto insurance: According to a story a UK media report, “Data gathered by autonomous cars and shared with insurance companies could be used to keep the vehicles from taking undue risk.” The story is about Oxbotica, an autonomous-vehicle company spun out from the University of Oxford, that shares data with an insurance company. A source in the story provides a hypothetical situation in which an insurance company could add value: “… say a car spots a large group of children on the sidewalk, near a school, in the middle of the afternoon. While it doesn’t understand that class is letting out for the day, it does see more potential obstacles than usual. An insurer could process that data and then allow robotic vehicles down the road only at a low speed, or else have them re-routed.” That is, according to a source in the story, “Insurers can adjust the envelope [in which a car can operate] to control the risk on the policy. The autonomy system has insurance built into it that allows it to control risk over a fleet.” The story goes on to conclude that, “Oxbotica reckons that this kind of close relationship with insurers could help encourage lawmakers to allow more autonomous cars on the roads for testing, buoyed by the knowledge that expert risk assessors are involved in controlling them. According to the story, also suggests that this could make it easier to get the go-ahead to test autonomous vehicles in other high-stakes environments, like airports.” https://bit.ly/2w729DA
 
A recent study published in Nature notes that Google-backed AI company Deepmind claims to have, “…developed an AI program that resembles the neural GPS system found inside the brain.” At present, the algorithm can only work in mazes but it plans to be further tested “challenging environments,” according to a media report. That is, a properly programmed vehicle would not have to rely just on GPS signals, but would also be tracking its progress within the computer itself, by being aware of where the vehicle is moving in space. An AV would be able to figure out exactly where it is based on how it has moved from where it started. https://bit.ly/2L6QZC6
 
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