Driverless Car Summit Closes With Focus on Consumer

A panel session, "In or Out - Public Perception and the Driverless Car," tackled consumer issues as well.

The second day of AUVSI's Driverless Car Summit covered user perspectives, public perception and honed in on the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration's recent release on the path forward for automation.

The day started with a user panel, featuring perspectives from a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer, a teenager and a father of a two-year-old "digital native."

Steve Rhode, who gave the Baby Boomer perspective, discussed how in 20 years, when his ability to drive might become impaired, he'd like to experience the mobility driverless cars would still afford him. Corey Clothier, a consultant for unmanned ground vehicles, said he recently failed a distracting driving test available on He said he's guilty of texting and even watching videos while driving. A Gen Xer, Clothier said as a consultant traffic frustrates him, because impediments like congestion limit the amount of time he can work. In the future, driverless cars would enable him more time to work with his clients.

Teenager Kelsey Clements said she sends 18,000 texts per month on average. She said sometimes she has her sister drive her around so she can spend more time focusing on other things.

Dr. Ron Storm, Dayton director of Aptima Inc., said his two-year-old daughter, Zoey, has owned an iPad since she was 1. To her, a vehicle is simply a place to get from Point A to Point B, to watch movies and to play on her iPad.

A panel session, "In or Out - Public Perception and the Driverless Car," tackled consumer issues as well.

Mike VanNieuwkuyk from J.D. Power and Associates said consumers look for one basic thing in cars, which is reliability. However, he said the general automotive market is extremely reliable right now, so consumers are turning to other factors. They are getting a good deal, fuel economy and advanced technology - "which is kind of counter to the idea that we want to watch what we spend," he said.

Annie Lien, a San Francisco-based consultant, said that cost will not be a major factor early on with driverless cars. She said not to underestimate early adopters' deep pockets. She pointed to high-end electric car Tesla, which has had difficulty selling its basic model, she said, but its more expensive cars are more successful. VanNieuwkuyk agreed, pointing to the early purchasers of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, which were twice as expensive as similar gas-powered models.

Nat Beuse, associate administrator for vehicle safety research, addressed the levels of automation NHTSA recently released. Beuse expressed frustration with how autonomous vehicles are portrayed in the media.

"One side recognizes there are huge challenges," he said. "… And the other side of the press is kind of commenting on how we're putting a damper on it."

Beuse said NHTSA released the guidelines to address this and also to address the myriad calls the agency has gotten from states seeking guidance on writing driverless car legislation.

"There was lots of activity from industry … and we felt like from our perspective … we wanted to put out there again. If you want to develop in the space, that's fine, but here are some safety issues you have to consider," he said.

Echoing the discussion the day prior, Beuse said NHTSA's focusing on that next level of autonomy and ensuring its safety.

"We really see this dedication we're going to make this year … as being really huge. We see those as enabling systems for automation," he said, adding NHTSA will tackle an automatic braking study later this year.

Paul Perrone discussed SAE International's own take on automation levels, which the organization is sharing with NHTSA. Perrone said the major difference is SAE's steps break down NHTSA's Level 3 Limited Self-Driving Automation into Conditional Automation and High Automation.

"The key difference as I understand it right now is [SAE's] Levels 3 and 4 … are actually combined in NHTSA's Level 3, so this is just a further distinction, a further level granularity to be a little more precise in this area," he said.

Attendees also minced words when it came to what to exactly call driverless cars. VanNieuwkyuk said he's comfortable with the term driverless. Lien said self-driving cars is a more accurate term than driverless, because the interim steps of added autonomy will not be completely driverless. Heinz Mattern, research and development manager at Valeo, said in an afternoon session that in Germany they call it intuitive driving.

Valeo had an unscheduled demo of its Park4U, which allows a driver to use parallel park assist. Once a vehicle passes a parking spot, the driver enacts the driver assist feature, which uses a beep to let the driver know it has started. From there, the car takes control over the rest of the parking and indicates it completed the maneuver with another beep. The impromptu event took dozens of Driverless Car Summit attendees for their first car ride with a driverless car feature.

The afternoon sessions turned to the topic of automated driving and the trucking industry. Mohammad Poorsartep, of the University of Michigan's Connected Vehicle Proving Center, discussed a new initiative - the Fleet Automation Forum.

The effort is grown out of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research. Development and Engineering Center, and plans on bringing different players together to collaborate on transitioning the fleet industry to increased automation.

The industry right now suffers from three main issues, says Poorsartep - a high driver turnover rate, unsafe and fatigued drivers, high road capacity and rising fuel costs.

"These are all the reasons to start thinking that truck automation can come to the rescue. It's kind of a no brainer, right?" he said.

Paul Schmitt of Volvo Truck Technology echoed Poorsartep's sentiment, saying there are currently 8.8 million trucks available for U.S. roads today. However, he said there are only 7 million Class D-licensed drivers.

"That's a clear case for autonomy if I've ever heard of one," he said.

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