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article imageQ&A: Looking into the future of autonomous vehicle safety Special

By Tim Sandle     Feb 9, 2020 in Technology
How safe are autonomous vehicles? rideOS CEO and co-founder, Justin Ho, believes that in order to bring AV fleets to market there needs to be an underlying technology enabling vehicles to speak with one another.
As CES 2020 revealed, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are a hot topic, with different tech companies test driving them. However, there is a key issue that needs to be faced as AVs come to market, and one that not enough people are talking about: safety.
AVs are built on different technologies that can’t communicate with one another or human-driven vehicles. As AV fleets hit the streets and are used for services like rideshare, the lack of communication creates a dangerous environment.
rideOS CEO and co-founder, Justin Ho, looks at why and how AV manufacturers need to deploy technology that is faster and safer, such as the Ridehail Platform (an open-source app and suite of APIs).
Digital Journal: How popular will autonomous vehicles become?
Justin Ho: Autonomous vehicles are going to be one of the biggest pieces of technology to roll out in our lifetimes, with huge technical, ethical, social, legal, and regulatory implications. Once the technology is safe, cheap, and reliable, it will become very popular.
But, it’s going to be a marathon with a slow roll out over the next decade. Creating truly safe vehicles and responsibly rolling them out into a world with human-driven cars is going to take a few more years and a lot more patience to win the self-driving ride-hailing market. It requires the technology, manufacturing, regulatory, and consumer adoption timelines to all line up. We are still in early innings.
DJ: Why are so many tech firms investing in AVs?
Ho: Let’s start with the problem. Transportation is fundamental for advancing societies forward, and the existing forms of transport and their cost models are being disrupted by electric vehicles, ride-hailing, and autonomous vehicles. Imagine getting around a city in an autonomous vehicle for $2.50 per trip, or $1.25 if you pool with another passenger.
AVs are going to be a critical part of the future of transportation, and there’s no clear leader, which means there’s a rush to develop the technology and capture the rents. They disrupt the ridehail model because the biggest problem with ridehail worldwide is getting more drivers. They disrupt the automotive world because building a car that’s used an hour a day is an inefficient use of assets vs shared, autonomous vehicles.
Lastly, there will be huge environmental impacts, and AVs will contribute to an emission-free society, creating cities that are eco-friendly and advanced in ways that we can only briefly comprehend now. Investing in AVs is investing in -- and believing in -- a digitally transformed city.
DJ: Why is safety not discussed as widely as it should when it comes to AVs?
Ho:There is clearly a lot of excitement around autonomous vehicles and we often discuss elements like the capabilities of the software powering these vehicles, the impacts this technology will have on infrastructure, and which automakers are planning to enter the AV space next. However, no one really talks about AV safety because it isn’t as glamorous as the other AV-driven headlines. And truth be told, the effects of testing AVs can lead to gruesome headlines, like car crashes and potentially deaths.
There are some fundamental problems when it comes to safety. Despite motor vehicles being one of the leading causes of death, accidents are pretty rare in developed markets relative to the amount that people drive. So, proving that the autonomous vehicle is 1x or 10x safer than a human driver, in the real world, is difficult. Furthermore, the software for developing the brains of the vehicle is changing everyday, which further exacerbates the problem.
Despite these issues, we believe that there are a lot of good people leading the efforts to develop AV technology, and the focus and resources being invested in safety are promising.
DJ: What are the main safety weaknesses with AVs?
Ho:The main safety weaknesses with AVs centralize around perception, prediction and planning. Predicting the trajectory or path of another vehicle or human and planning a route or maneuver forward. Add in the complexity of corner cases that humans interact with on a daily basis -- a construction zone worker waving his or her hand to direct traffic, a child running out onto a street to chase a bouncing ball, a bag (or is it really a rock?) flying at the front windshield of a car on the highway -- and you start to appreciate the types of edge-case scenarios that could lead to safety weaknesses. Further exacerbating this issue is solving this on a route by route, region by region, and city by city basis. Developing technology to drive in New Delhi is much different than that of Phoenix, Arizona.
DJ: Are there additional safety concerns when it comes to fleets?/ What are the technological solutions to boost AV safety?
Ho:Absolutely. Thinking about fleets and the commercialization of autonomous vehicles comes with its own set of safety challenges as well. We believe that autonomous vehicles will initially come into the world in a small segment of the city, initially with a set of limited capabilities, and expanding over time. Thus, building a routing engine that can take into account these capabilities and giving different AVs routes depending upon its capabilities, will be critical. This is something we’re building at rideOS. In addition, having a cloud platform that can help transmit safety-critical data from one fleet to another is crucial For example, if one car tragically killed someone on the road, we believe that information needs to be transmitted to all of the other AVs on the road.
When it comes to fleet management, ensuring that your systems are up to date and your operators are educated is absolutely essential. Every vehicle in a fleet needs to be running properly prior to hitting the road, requiring regular maintenance checks each week for hardware and software. Using a form of fleet monitoring software is also a needed component when it comes to fleet safely. Knowing where your vehicles are at all times, and staying on top of their maintenance schedules can help manage and prevent safety hazards.
DJ: What is the rideOS technology?
Ho:rideOS builds software that enables companies to efficiently move people and things throughout the world. Our vision is to become the leading global cloud platform for location, dispatch, and routing services. Our first product is the Ridehail Platform, a series of backend APIs and sample apps and web tools that allow TNCs, OEMs, and Autonomous Vehicle companies to start, or optimize, their existing or new ridehail networks. Our products are built upon two foundational technologies: our constraint-based routing engine, and our fleet planner optimization algorithms. We are happily collaborating with Ford, ST Engineering, and Voyage, as well as, other, unannounced customers.
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