Season 1, Episode 3

IoT and Autonomous Vehicles

Transportation expert Kara Kockelman, PhD, joins host Vaughn Amann for a discussion surrounding IoT applications in Autonomous Vehicles.

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Today we’re on the leading edge of another major transformation enabled by the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles. Our guest today, Dr. Kara Kockelman, is the author of over 150 referenced publications on transportation-related subjects. She’s a civil and environmental engineer, and currently professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Her work often focuses on transportation and planning for future implementation of shared and autonomous vehicle systems.

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Vaughn Amann

Dr. Kara Kockelman, P.E.

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IoT Wavelength Podcast Season 1 Episode 3 – Autonomous Vehicles with Kara Kockelman, Ph.D.

Vaughn:

You’re tuned into the IOT wavelength where we look in depth at the people in technologies that are stretching the boundaries of the internet of things and transforming the world we live in. I’m your host Vaughn Amann, and I’d like to welcome you to this third episode in the IOT wavelength podcast series.

We live in an age of unprecedented mobility. Travel that would have taken days or even weeks a hundred years ago, can now be completed in a matter of hours. Thanks to advancements in automotive and highway engineering. We travel in relative comfort, isolated from the elements with air conditioning, entertainment systems, and a ride that’s comparable to sitting in a lounge chair.

We’re surrounded by airbags for safety and our vehicles are highly reliable. The one big variable that engineering hasn’t been able to remove from the equation is the driver. Until now. Today we’re on the verge of another major transformation enabled by the internet of things, autonomous vehicles. Our guest today is the author of over 150 reference publications on transportation related subjects.

She’s a civil and environmental engineer and currently professor of civil engineering at the university of Texas at Austin. Our work often focuses on transportation and planning for future implementation of shared and autonomous vehicle systems. So let me introduce my guest today, dr Carrara. Koppelman, welcome to the podcast, Kara.

Kara:

Thanks for having me.

Vaughn:

It turns out that you picked a very interesting and active subject to pursue in your career. In fact, it’s one of the areas of the IOT that will have the greatest impact in the next few years. So what got you interested in the transportation industry?

Kara:

Well, I think when I was young, I understood that air pollution and the 1970s was a real issue for this country.

And I knew that vehicles were very much involved. So that was maybe my first direction. But it wasn’t until I was an undergrad in civil engineering at UC Berkeley that I started thinking seriously about specific directions. And transportation just seems so much more interesting than some of my other options.

So I was very fortunate. I chose that direction. We’ve been hearing predictions of self driving vehicles for several years now, and we’ve seen some high profile implementations like Tesla’s autopilot.

Vaughn:

So what’s the state of autonomous vehicles today?

Kara:

Well, there are manufacturers or technologists that have vehicles working at a lot of different speeds and a lot of different settings quite well, but they do have what we call disengagements every few thousand miles, let’s say, where an operator is asked to intervene in, in most cases. And that’s not safe enough or reliable enough for most passengers. And most shippers, I’d say, or carriers of freight. So they’re working to get that up and they may want to have remote drivers that can intervene as well and see what’s happening on the roadside. And so they do not have to place drivers in those vehicles. That’ll save a lot of money, but it also does introduce an opportunity for some hacking and abusive vehicles out there on the road. So it’ll be interesting to see which way they go.

Vaughn:

So what are your predictions for the next stages of implementation for autonomous vehicles?

Kara:

Well, we’re pretty excited about what we see in the Phoenix area with Waymo. And so we hope to see that expanding. Maybe Cruise, which is largely owned by GM, can do something very similar in a US city and we’ve seen some truck demonstrations that would be nice, again, without a human operator in that front seat.

So that’s what Waymo has been doing at relatively low speeds and pretty controlled setting. Phoenix isn’t known to have a terrible snow or lead and fog. And then of course, they’ve recorded and map those roadways very, very nicely. So they’ve got great information in that setting.

Vaughn:

Right. Well, outside of the mapping. Is there any roadside communication that’s necessary for those trials, local communications?

Kara:

No, absolutely not. At the road side like you would use for tolling and congestion taxes, for example.

Vaughn:

And that’s one area that sort of interests me is the roadside communications that eventually will be put in place for maybe signaling ahead where there’s a blockage or re-routing, things of that nature.

Kara:

That doesn’t really need to be roadside. Usually that would be cellular over a 5G network, and that’s how that information would be transmitted. But if there is a problem spot, like a. A blind curve or an often IC curve, they can put some local hardware out there to make sure that nobody misses that message because that speeds up the transmission of the information.

And so a prior vehicle that may have gone by five minutes ago, because it’s not a very heavily used roadway, can store that information or save it on the roadside and that can be relayed to coming travelers. There’s also the possibility in the long term, a very smart intersections, and so they can be listening in and helping move cues out of the way at all sorts of hours, especially off peak in the short term.

But in the longterm, if you almost fully automate your fleet and there’s no pedestrians, say, or bicyclists, which would not be automated travelers on the. Site. Then you can possibly relay arrival times that you expect for all oncoming vehicles to help send mini platoons through and speed up that capacity, those intersections,

Vaughn:

And there’ll be vehicle to vehicle communications involved in that too.

Kara:

Yeah. Vehicle to vehicle is a great thing to have at any time, quite honestly. The manufacturer that’s receiving the information or its vehicle may not trust the information, but at least it has some more information and depending on the standards used, they can make that quite safe and reliable and, and help avoid a fair number of crashes that way.

Vaughn:

Right. So they could build virtual mesh networks as they go along the highway,

Kara:

You can avoid your cellular system, which speeds things up quite a bit by hopping directly.

Vaughn:

So what do you see as the longterm benefits and maybe the risks and the costs involved?

Kara:

So adding autonomy or an existing vehicle, if you were to possibly be able to buy this, and the showroom would be at least $50,000 right now on a light duty vehicle and over a hundred thousand on a heavy duty truck, and they don’t really want to sell to us.

So you’re not going to find this in your showroom. You might find a level two, right? A Tesla, and you may decide to purchase the technology option for a couple thousand dollars. But the true autonomy is probably going to be handed off to fleet managers that can be reliably testing the vehicles’ sensors each day and cleaning them and checking them along with the algorithm updates and resetting software is needed.

So it’s going to be a lengthy contract. It’s not for you or me. It’s really for the more sophisticated managers of larger fleets that can maintain those vehicles properly.

Vaughn:

Do you see eventually the private ownership of automobiles, well, being diminished, certainly, but maybe perhaps going away entirely and that being an anomaly to have your own vehicle?

Kara:

Well, I don’t think so because I do think autonomy’s pricing is going to come down so far in the longterm, probably under 5,000 and even under $3,000 per vehicle. So that technology option that you can buy right now would probably deliver autonomy and get rid of the steering wheel. I do think that will be mandated at some point.

And so while all vehicles may be self-driving at some point, I don’t think that they will all be held by fleet managers just because some households and businesses really like to put specialized equipment in their vehicle like a baby seat, and they cannot always rely, especially on the response times that may occur for those kinds of specialized vehicles, especially at that price point.

So many Americans will be able to afford that.

Vaughn:

Well, I think taking away the steering wheel and the pedals are going to be a huge psychological barrier for a lot of people.

Kara:

I’m not sure that many of those people will be alive at the point that’s mandated. It’s still a very long way off.

Vaughn:

That’s a good point. So how, what’s the reception of your students to all of this technology?

Kara:

Oh, I think most people are very excited at almost any age. There’s a lot of elderly people that are shut in, especially at night due to personal limitations on driving an eyesight and that kind of thing.

Vaughn:

Oh, sure. And that would help their mobility tremendously.

Kara:

Yeah. Which means added driving, which means more congested network.

Vaughn:

But again, the network itself would take care of some of the congestion problems, right? By increasing the efficiency of the traffic flows,

Kara:

Well it’s really, the vehicles who could be counted on. It’s not the network design until you get that almost full automation situation where you can release just mini platoons to go through certain intersections. But in the meantime, it’s really just cars being able to follow more closely, not in get into crashes, which cause you know, about a quarter of the delay on our roadways is, is caused by crashes. So those kinds of things may go down. And if we force vehicles to follow closely by requiring it like a one second headway between following vehicles.

Right now, you’re taught to drive it a two second headway and that would only be helpful really on the freeways and highways, because once you get into urban streets, you’ve got all those intersections where stop signs and signal lights and coordination between opposing vehicles and cross vehicles really governs the capacity of those links.

Vaughn:

And pedestrians and other things that might guard out in front of you.

Kara:

Definitely

Vaughn:

This is going to cause major changes in the supply chain and how goods are delivered to people. So what kind of changes do you see. In the future for that

Kara:

Well, there’s robots and there’s drones and those don’t really look like self driving vehicles to you or me. We already have a lot of people in the gig economy doing, you know, small deliveries in real time, and I think we’ll see more of that. Especially now with the Covid crisis going on. You see a lot of people not wanting to leave their homes and, and learning how to make purchases of groceries online.

Vaughn:

Well, some of the pushback you might expect from people like racing enthusiasts, but are you seeing any pushback from other groups that are resistant to autonomous vehicles?

Kara:

Well, most Americans aren’t willing to trust their lives with these things. Even if you know, they’ve passed some safety tests, they really want to be in that wait and see. And that’s, that was typical of all sorts of things like airlines, even elevators when they got rid of elevator operators was quite scary for people a hundred years ago who were used to that kind of system.

And those are. Technically self driving vehicles. They don’t have any other vehicle in their chutes. They’re, they’re very unlikely to crash into another vehicle. But there’s, there’s all sorts of things that can go wrong in an elevator.

Vaughn:

That’s a great analogy. We should probably be asking great grandparents how they felt about automatic elevators. And what would you say to the people that are afraid of autonomous vehicles, especially trucks. You see a large truck and no driver, that’s kind of a scary proposition mentally.

Kara:

People are very scared of trucks. They’re huge, and they have lots of momentum and lots of kinetic energy to land on you if you were to be hit by them.

But they also do have professional drivers. And so something the owners of those vehicles take very seriously because they’re ultimately on the line. And the manufacturer is also very concerned because the liability is going to trace back to that manufacturer and whatever code is being used on that vehicle.

Like I said earlier, though, it’s typical to have an operator still on board who may be awake and alert, you know, especially in congested settings where there are other vehicles, just to make sure that he or she can override systems if necessary.

Vaughn:

What changes do you see in, in vehicle designs coming as a result of this?

Kara:

Well we really do hope to see electrification because there’s a lot of computers and sensors on board and those demand energy and they demand electrons. And so one of the things that we expect is drive trains being at least hybrid. So larger batteries on board these vehicles and hopefully much better fuel economy.

And in terms of the shared fleets, it really makes sense to use a much smaller vehicle than most Americans tend to buy because they tend to buy this big. CUV or SUV for that, you know, twice a year camping trip, let’s say.

Vaughn:

The comfort cruiser.

Kara:

Yeah. Minivans are really maxi vans as far as I’m concerned, and those can handle a lot of people. So you can order two small vehicles or you can order a specialized big vehicle and wait longer for it to serve you. It’s part of a shared fleet that’ll make a lot more sense than buying and owning a very large vehicle.

Vaughn:

And I imagine at some point that the safety would be tremendously increased by having mostly autonomous, if not all autonomous vehicles on the road.

Kara:

Right. So we estimate on the order of 80% crash savings. And if people decide to abuse these vehicles by playing chicken with them because they think there’s no way it can hit me, so I can do whatever I want, those people will be videotaped or photographed, and I think facial recognition will put an end to that kind of abuse.

Vaughn:

Wow. 80% reduction just in the terms of the number of lives lost in the U S only. What are we talking about?

Kara:

Well, you might actually save more than 80% of lives because one of the things that happens is the vehicle starts slowing much faster than you and I would probably react. And so that helps bring injury counts down dramatically.

Vaughn:

So the automobiles should be able to avoid many situations that a human wouldn’t be able to.

Kara:

Well, they’ll still crash, let’s say, but at much lower speed in many settings where the obstacle is not visible until you get around a curve or the child’s coming out between two cars. But that ability to slow much faster is what’s going to be very helpful in saving more than 80% of the lives.

Vaughn:

Right. And the pedestrians with the camera’s looking out for people on the, on the periphery of vision, on both sides at the same time, which a person can’t do very well.

Kara:

Yeah. All those things bring really dramatic and possibly 90% savings or more in crashes. I just don’t want to get people’s hopes up too high, especially in the near term.

Vaughn:

Sure. Well, in the long term, when we do reach this point where the vehicles are a lot safer than, we should be able to reduce some of the weight restrictions on cars by taking off some of the safety equipment that we have built into them now.

Kara:

That’s already happening. Yeah. But there’s still possibilities, you know, of crashing into a wall or something, you know? So that, it’ll still be a pretty strong cage around you. But we’ve already down-weighted our vehicles a fair bit to try to get to the corporate average fuel economy standards. They’re super strong. It’s almost. You know, it’s super hard to kill somebody inside a vehicle, but what we’re doing a lot more killing of is the pedestrians and the cyclists because they’re very vulnerable out there.

Vaughn:

Oh, definitely. Do you see any industries that will be created from all of these changes coming about from autonomous vehicles?

Kara:

Well, certainly camera, LIDAR, electronics firms, tend to benefit greatly. Electric vehicle production and battery, definitely. These are fleet operators, so it’s a different style.

It’s like Hertz or enterprise rent a car and teaming with the big auto manufacturers or the auto manufacturers, just moving forward and adding the talent that they need. Right now most of them are partnering.

Vaughn:

So it sounds like the fleet operations will just grow exponentially. At some point in the relatively near future.

Kara:

Yeah. Exponential growth is typical for these kinds of, you know, time saving, cost, saving new technologies, but we’re starting from a very low base, so it may ramp up that way, but you probably won’t see it in your local town for many years to come.

Vaughn:

Well, how about industries that will change radically or just go away entirely in the long run?

Kara:

So insurance was one that they were quite worried about. But of course, we insure lots of things and our autonomous vehicles can suffer a hail damage and they can be hit by a bicyclist and, uh, keyed by, you know, somebody walking by and things like that. So there’s all sorts of damage that can happen.

And the manufacturer will often hold a lot of the liability and there. Or have a lot of the insurance on their accounts and they’re so large, they may insure in house, but, uh, there’s still lots of things to insure in this world, like your life and your home and your vehicle. Even if it is self-driving, um, you will probably be wanting to protect it from all sorts of other damage.

The, uh, crashes themselves to once litigated will be much more complex. And so, uh, crash attorneys won’t be going completely away in a fully automated future.

Vaughn:

So those people shouldn’t be afraid of being employed in the future at all,

Kara:

And it takes a while to turn over a vehicle fleet, right? Even if we were mandated today to all by level two vehicles that say it’s going to be about 15 to 20 years before we have hardly any use of the existing vehicles.

The average lifetime of a light duty vehicle in this country is about 17 years.

Vaughn:

Well, I know things like gas stations are going to be radically different. They’re even now starting to change over to charging stations being available for people to, at this point, they have to sit there and wait for an hour or two or three just to get to their next waypoint on their travels.

Kara:

Well, 30 minutes is really the kind of wait time that Tesla and others expect. So they’re offering about an 80% charge of your battery in that time. They don’t want to go up to 90 or 100% because it’s tough on the battery as you start to fill the cells and you can cause real overload issues.

But 80% in 30 minutes. That’s amazing. A lot of us could do a long distance trip because you know, every four hours, most of us do want to stop to take a break and stretch our legs, grab something to eat so it can work out really well if you plan it properly.

Vaughn:

That’s a good point. And there’s the concept also of just battery exchange. If you drive into a gas station, they would just change your battery out rather than waiting for you to recharge.

Kara:

Well, we were hoping for that. But standardization across makes and models is very unlikely. Israel tried to do that cause they’re sort of an Island country in the sea of the middle East and Hawaii, you know, might be another place for that kind of thing.

But everybody would have to agree to make and use the same kinds of vehicles and the manufacturers want a lot more flexibility. You can see this in the design of their vehicles, like Tesla putting the battery all in the floor. I mean it’s, it’s brilliant, but it is not really reproducible and they continue to change that design.

Vaughn:

Well, that keeps the center of mass low, which is really good for handling. But yeah, that creates other problems I’m sure. Well there’s some legislative work that’s ongoing and some that’s needed, and there’s some legislative challenges. Could you address some of those issues?

Kara:

Sure. So a lot of the States are in a wait and see mode. They let California, maybe Florida and Arizona lead, and many States are very aggressive trying to bring this technology in like Nevada, probably Arizona again. And so the Feds had been waiting. You know, a lot of it depends on who you elect as your president in terms of the administration of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

And so that guidance can change from president to president. And the States I think are really leading. So California, I bet is the one to watch here in the United States for that policy. And, and they are allowing vehicles now to be tested without a safety driver in the front.

Vaughn:

And that’s a high density area as well. I mean, Arizona and Nevada don’t have that high density population typically, so lots of wide open spaces there.

Kara:

Yeah, San Francisco is an exciting place to test, and so most of the technologists are situated in the San Francisco Bay area, so it’s a great place to test. Doesn’t have a lot of really high speeds though, unless you get on the freeway.

And high speeds are where you can really do a lot of damage. So they do try to stay under 35 miles per hour in most settings

Vaughn:

It has a lot of interesting Hills and twists and turns in the roadways and lots of pedestrians and other challenges that need to be overcome and proven to be overcome. So that’d be a great testing ground.

So there are some predictions that there would be a lot of added congestion to the roads when you have autonomous vehicles on the road because people would be a lot more mobile and have the ability to get around more frequently and easily.

Kara:

Right. And when you don’t have to drive that car or that truck, you can look at your phone or sleep and then time kind of passes much more quickly for you. You don’t really pay much attention to it. So we’re making driving easier, and every time we make travel easier, people tend to go farther. And they may even live farther and place their businesses farther from the downtown, adding additional sprawl, for example. So we’re predicting added vehicle miles traveled on our roads longterm from these trucks, but mostly cars and even people leaving the airlines.

For short haul markets, like 300 miles to 500 miles, leaving those airlines and taking to the ground, which can increase traffic by 25 to 50% which would gridlock most of our cities, even with smart cars.

Vaughn:

Even with the vehicles communicating with each other and platooning and things like that.

Kara:

And the federal government mandating a one second headway, which will feel a little scary to some travelers, right.

Especially at high speed. But that, like I mentioned earlier, would really only. Take care of some issues on those high-speed facilities where there aren’t a lot of intersections with street lights and stop signs governing your travel.

Vaughn

Right. So we’d see a lot of changes probably in the structure of the highways, or at least in the local areas, intersections, like you mentioned.

Kara:

Well, the intersection changes kind of longterm, except for helping vehicles see one another around curves and buildings where the radar doesn’t travel typically. And so you really generally need a line of sight for a lot of that. And those receivers can transmit position, direction and speed of oncoming vehicles to others that might be at a cross street.

And that’s helpful in reducing crashes, but it’s not really going to help with capacity, those intersections until we have nearly everyone in a fully automated vehicle.

Vaughn:

One of the industries that is likely to be really impacted is the airline industry, especially in just domestic travel. If you could get in your autonomous vehicle and go to sleep and wake up in a different state the next morning refreshed.

Kara:

And you still have your vehicle, you don’t have to go to a rental car agency for it.

Vaughn:

So that sounds great to me.

Kara:

Yeah. And you don’t have to go through security. You don’t have to wait and you know, an hour before boarding these kinds of things are really time consuming.

Vaughn:

Exactly, you’d shave four hours off of your travel right there.

Kara:

Right. But people probably will not go as far, so you might see some reductions in total distance traveled by passengers as they take to the road, and they choose destinations that are closer and often domestic rather than going international.

Because once you’re in the air, you’re going 400 miles per hour or faster. And so you ended up going very far quickly.

Vaughn:

That’s true. But again, if you’re traveling a long distance you could sleep through the travel.

Kara:

Right, right. So that’s always nice.

Vaughn:

So with this additional traffic, there will be the added congestion on the roads, and are there things that you could do like ride sharing that would help?

Kara:

Absolutely. So that’s one of the features that the transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber are already trying out, is pooling. And so they’re pulling strangers together, which is really valuable. And in many dense settings, you do need to have a critical mass of users to get that to work.

So once a fleet is up and operating, if you can fill those spots, you’ve got a great situation for bringing the cost of automated transportation down and getting more people on board.

Vaughn:

So Uber and companies like that have already proven the business case for ride sharing. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

Kara:

Well, they’re not making money. They lose about a dollar per ride, unfortunately. But they absolutely have proven the feasibility of it and people enjoy it. I’ve done it many times. You know, a lot of women may be nervous, but I have to tell you, Lyft has an algorithm that puts women together and often put some with a woman driver, which is, you know, another reason not to not try these things.

Vaughn:

So there’s definitely demand there. They may have to work on the economic equation a little more, but the demand is definitely proven. So with all of this, it’s going to reduce parking if you have less density in urban areas.

Kara:

So yeah, you have more driving. So a lot of people don’t understand that if you take away eight passenger vehicles, privately owned, and you replace them with one hardworking SAV, that’s a shared autonomous vehicle, it’s working eight hours a day or more, and some of its miles are being driven empty. Just like a Lyft and Uber vehicles are often being driven with no passenger on board. And so that adds a lot of traffic, but it doesn’t add a lot of parking demand. So that’s one of the beautiful things, especially in busy downtowns, that these vehicles can pick up and drop off at the curb, and the travelers don’t have to go search for parking or pay for parking, and that does reduce parking demand.

So there’ll be some opportunities to really retrofit our cities. Especially the curb area to leave that for deliveries or bicycles or maybe extended sidewalks, these kinds of things, rather than having a lot of cars parking at the curb or in parking garages offsite,

Vaughn:

That solves a lot of headaches that people go through today and in high density areas.

Along with that. There would be a reduction in the pollutants if you have fewer vehicles.

Kara:

Right, especially if they’re electrified. So this is something that all your listeners can do right now is go get at least a hybrid electric vehicle and see how fantastic that vehicle is in terms of pickup.

But when you get a green light, I, you’re going to be, you know, enjoying that ride on your own driveway and your garage will smell better and they’ll smell great. If you get an all electric vehicle. Those do not have any emissions. You don’t have to visit the gas station anymore. That’s a hazardous material, petroleum.

You don’t want to play around with that and the emissions out of our power plants are quite a bit better, almost everywhere in the U S and the next five years. They continue to get cleaner, so your electric vehicles just going to get cleaner if you’re plugging it in. Those power sources are just getting cleaner over time, so that’s one way to start transitioning to new technologies that will be a little bit more similar to the self driving vehicles of the future.

Vaughn:

There’d be a lot of changes in city designs as well as you were describing. There’d be less. Well, you’d need more curb space, I guess, for temporary curb parking, but people wouldn’t be camping out in the curb parking for an hour like they do now.

Kara:

Right. And cities can prohibit standing and idling of vehicles and they can prohibit certain pickup and drop off spots. And they do that all the time. We’ve seen that at airports, for example, with Lyft and Uber. You have to walk to to find them in a parking lot that’s now under utilized. We have too much parking at many of our airports now because of people relying on these transportation network companies or ride hailing apps.

Vaughn:

Well, with the advancement in the autonomous vehicles having smaller shared autonomous vehicles would make a lot of sense, like people movers in downtown areas.

Kara:

Absolutely. And smaller is better for all sorts of reasons. Not only is it more energy efficient, but you can see around smaller vehicles much better than you can around the pickup trucks and SUVs that Americans are driving, which creates a hazard for everybody, but especially the pedestrians and cyclists, they can’t get on top of those frames if they get hit and they can definitely mount a small vehicle much faster and much more safely and survive those crashes much better.

Vaughn:

Typically in city designs, I guess if you have a designated hub points at every few blocks, let’s compare that to a subway system like in Manhattan. That works very, very well where you have these hub points where people drop off and then you may have these smaller autonomous vehicles that can carry you two or three blocks if I need it.

Kara:

This a lot like taxi stands, you walk a block or two and Uber, and I think Lyft, we’re trying this out too in some busy cities where they were asking their travelers who wanted to. Share a ride to also walk a block and a half to facilitate the pickup and drop off, and it really facilitates sharing.

So you’re much more likely to have somebody get on with you as well as get off with you so you don’t have that vehicle going out of its way to add passengers.

Vaughn:

Right. In terms of city design, they’ll do, everything would become more like what we know today is pedestrian malls, which are pretty well isolated islands in cities.

But the entire downtown of a city could become a giant pedestrian mall at that point.

Kara:

Right – It’s much easier to convert when people have this option. Parking is no longer a problem for them, but some locations need to be open or penetrated. And of course, these can be by very safe, you know, a slow moving, shared autonomous vehicles, especially for persons with disabilities or have large packages that need to be dropped off closer to their destination.

Vaughn:

Well. Is there anything in the legislative area for any work ongoing or things that needed to be changed in the short run that our listeners can contribute to the development and the promotion of autonomous vehicles?

Kara:

Well, I think electrification is really important. So testing that out and shine that out so people are less oblivious to what that really entails. It’s a terrific technology that we’re seeing very slow adoption on, and that’s really unimpressive unless of course you live in California where it has been impressive thanks to policymaking. And we’ll probably see something similar with the shared autonomous vehicle fleets.

And some cities may end up not allowing anything but self driving vehicles downtown. And some may even only allow the shared fleets downtown. So that will hopefully change behaviors, but it’s a long way off.

Vaughn:

In terms of years or decades or….?

Kara:

Depends where you live. If you live in San Francisco, you’re going to see a lot of these things and have access earlier.

Same thing with Phoenix. They a hundred households or more that have special access to these Waymo fleets and you know, Pittsburgh, Austin, Texas. Maybe Portland, Oregon, and Boston. So big cities, we’ll see them first. But I’d also be a visitor as oftentimes. So airports, but lower speeds protect the provider as they cause they’re much less likely to harm people.

And so lower speed settings, which doesn’t mean an airport pickup and, and a freeway ride, it means staying in the city is more likely to be the place that you’ll be experiencing it.

Vaughn:

Well with the hub and spoke idea. You take a high relatively high speed transportation to your hub, and then you can jump off to the lower speed autonomous vehicle to get you to your final destination.

Kara:

Exactly, but Americans do not like transfers like most people in the world. That’s a lot to ask. If I made a drive up to a high speed buses and I get on a bus and get off and wait for the perfect shared autonomous vehicle to take you to your final destination at low speed, uh, but in very busy places like Singapore and Tokyo. Absolutely. Those kinds of things are done every day right now, and that’s just part of life, right?

Vaughn:

Well, again, compare that to the subway system in Manhattan and people. I don’t mind it that much. You know, it’s very efficient. It works very well. It gets them where they need to be and they don’t have to park their cars.

Kara:

Yeah. It’s very old right now. And so there is a lot of issue with the New York subway system and, and they, you know, it’s very hard to retrofit while not disrupting people’s lives. And that’s, that’s always an issue. But it is a fantastic system because it’s underground, so it doesn’t have to share the right away with all those car using vehicles or households on the surface level.

Vaughn:

But there will be a lot of changes in city designs to put more things on the, on the surface,

Kara:

Right. Unless Elon Musk’s boring company, right. Opens up a lot of underground without disturbing any building foundations, because that can get kind of expensive in terms of lawsuits, if any tall buildings shift around you.

Vaughn:

Wow. Well, it sounds like there are a lot of exciting changes in the future coming. And we don’t know exactly where all this is going to end up, but many of the solutions that you’ve presented to us today sound really good.

Kara:

I didn’t tell you about my favorite one. So is something called credit based congestion pricing. Remember I mentioned the grid log of all this added traffic earlier. People having values of travel time go down because they don’t have to steer and drive. They can just focus on their cell phone or something. And so there’s a lot of added driving that we expect. And the only way to get people to really behave and not over consume the scarce resource of road space is to price it.

But that toll revenue doesn’t really belong to the. System owner or manager because those roads belong to all of us. Created that system through taxes on gas and taxes, on property over the decades, and so that revenue should go back in the form of credits to everybody equitably. Everybody gets the same credit each month, at least if you’re a licensed driver or you have a registered vehicle, or you’re just an adult living in that city, and that money can be used for bus passes or transportation network company ride hailing. It can be used for electric bikes. Maybe it can be used for kayaks. It has to be used locally, but most people will probably spend it on the road and they’ll. They’ll pay attention. What are the prices right now? Should I leave now or should I leave later?

Should I go this route or that route? Should I even go to that destination? How about something closer? So make Americans start thinking about the delays that they impose on others by making that pricing explicit, but give everybody a credit every month and they’ll get to their destinations on time. Even with all of this added traffic.

Vaughn:

Sure, well, they’re paying for gasoline now and there will be a reduction in gasoline taxes to the states and the other government agencies. So there will definitely have to be a re partitioning, I guess, of the financial, the economics of the whole system.

Kara:

Right – electric vehicles definitely use less gasoline, even if they’re hybrid and they still do use gasoline. So that’s a concern for a lot of state departments of transportation. We want those more efficient vehicles.

We want less of a climate crisis, but we still need those gas taxes. We need probably at least double what we’re paying. Currently texting people. It’s just a lot more complex to charge it in real time on the road rather than through those refineries, which is how we currently price this, which is much simpler.

Vaughn:

Well, with 5G, I guess that would help all the transmission of all the real time information, getting to the right agencies.

Kara:

Absolutely. So Singapore is putting cell phones on all of its cars. It doesn’t have many cars cause it has a very expensive auction system. So to even get a car in Singapore, you have to have a hundred thousand dollars, and you only get that permission for like six to eight years, and then you have to go back and, and bid again.

Uh, so as you can imagine, ride hailing is very popular in Singapore, so you don’t have to own that. Um, they also have a fantastic transit systems and they have congestion pricing in real time and they are shifting to the cellular mode so that they can charge, you know, even lane by lane some day. Because cell coordinates will be so specialized that you’ll be able to keep track of where those vehicles are, at least while they’re in your domain.

Vaughn:

Well, these are some really exciting changes that you’re, that you’re talking about here, and I’m really anxious to see some of these changes occurring. I wish it would speed up a bit on some of them.

Kara:

I think the credit base congestion pricing is something that your listeners can pursue with their local legislators.

Very few people know about it. They know about tolls and they know about congestion fees and those usually go right back to. The transportation agency that’s charging them, and a lot of it is lost on the technology and the third party administrators of the system. So shifting to a much less expensive and ultimately embedded technology on the vehicles will be really helpful.

And keep those costs down and returning those credits, but at the same time, they can charge vehicle miles, traveled fees, which are like gas taxes so that everybody pays equitably rather than electric vehicle owners not having to pay, and they can just layer on that congestion fee that rises and falls as, as traffic gets bad.

Just the way Singapore does. Right?

Vaughn:

And that’s exactly what the toll roads are doing now, right? Congestion based pricing and consumption based pricing.

Kara:

A few of them are, so we have express lanes here in Austin, but the tolls just rise. Without any curb, they go super high. And um, there’s no information on how much time saved you would have by taking that toll route.

So it’s really inefficient. And Google’s navigation app doesn’t tell us what the tools are, even though most tools in this country are completely static, they’re not for congestion at all. They’re for maintenance of the infrastructure, like the golden gate toll. $8 or more, I think per vehicle, and that’s always – the middle of the night when there’s no congestion, you’re going to see that toll.

So Google’s navigation app should start taking care of that and Waze, fortunately does. Waze is owned by Google, and hopefully that technology will start to showing up on our, our Google apps on our phones any day now.

Vaughn:

It’s brought a little smile to my face when I get the past cars in the, in the toll lanes during traffic times,

Kara:

That’s what you’re paying for.

Vaughn:

But with the advent of AI and other things that will be able to more intelligently plan these things out and give you information in real time. The 5G network should help with that with decreased latency and the availability of having a lot more communication simultaneously.

Kara:

That’s what we were told, but not really noticing any improvements yet. And of course, we do have 5G on many carriers here in Austin.

Vaughn:

So there are other IoT applications that we can investigate and improve our lives in the near future. And those are the subject for other episodes of IoT wavelength. And I’d like to thank you very much for being with us today and giving us your insights.

Kara:

My pleasure.

Vaughn:

My guest for this episode of the IOT wavelength podcast has been dr Kara Koppelman, transportation expert and professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. If you’d like to get more information or see the transcript of this episode, visit our website at iotwavelength.com/podcast and thanks for listening.

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