Navigant Research Blog

Autonomous Vehicles and Keeping Pets Safe on the Road

— July 1, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2With the Fourth of July rapidly approaching, Americans everywhere are revisiting their version of the American Dream. The traditional American Dream can be quantified: 2.5 children, one house, two green lawns, one cat, one dog, and one to two cars.

Recent developments have made this dream change somewhat. The tiny house movement has driven some household footprints to 500 square feet and smaller. Lawns go unwatered thanks to drought and water conservation efforts. Cars are increasingly technologically advanced—everything from alternative powertrains and carsharing programs to autonomous driving. In fact, Navigant Research forecasts that carsharing programs will grow sixfold by 2024. It seems the only things that haven’t changed are the nuclear family’s propensity toward having pets. So how does Fido fit into the New American Dream? It turns out that the answer may be in the increased protective services of self-driving cars.

Autonomous vehicles are rapidly becoming a divisive subject. There are people who are absolutely gung-ho about the idea, promising to never touch a gas pedal again as soon as the vehicles are available to the public. On the other side are those who would never entrust something as difficult and variable as driving to the mind of a machine. However, there is no denying the fact that human drivers are a massive risk on the road. Of the 20 accidents in which Google cars have been involved, only one was caused by the autonomous vehicle. The rest? All caused by the carelessness of distracted and slow-reacting human drivers. Human-caused car accidents are a threat to lives, human and animal alike.

Keeping People (and Pets) Safe

In 2014, Tesla Motors posted a parody article for April Fool’s day, claiming that pet-driven cars are safer than autonomous vehicles. The best-driving pet was voted to be the goldfish. This was due to their calm, meticulous nature, and having no propensity to drive off cliffs (as cats do) or drive the car after squirrels (credit: dogs). Computers are in many ways like goldfish in these capacities: they are inherently unbiased except as designed in their programming, require minimum feeding, and display a calm and calculating decision-making ability. Fortunately, computers also have a memory longer than 30 seconds.

It is ridiculous to think of vehicles being driven by our furry and scaly companions rather than by complex algorithms, because self-driving cars do present many potential benefits for our many-legged friends. By reducing the number of all types of accidents and collisions, the number of pet injuries and deaths due to cars is also greatly reduced. In the United States, around 1.2 million dogs and 5.4 million cats are killed on the roads every year. In addition, distracted driving was the cause of 5,474 human deaths and 448,000 injuries in 2009. It is difficult to say precisely how many of these distractions were due to pets in the car, but pets are counted among other distractions to drivers, a category encompassing disruptive passengers, misbehaving children, and drivers that put on makeup or read in the car. While a human or their furry companion can become distracted from the road, autonomous vehicles are solely focused on the task of safely navigating the roads and avoiding collisions with vehicles, people, and other mammals.

The American Dream has certainly changed, but autonomous vehicles are doing their part to protect us and our animal companions. Aside from shooting off fireworks while grilling hamburgers on the hood, there is nothing a vehicle could do to be more American.

 

Initial Quality Study Highlights the Commercial Risks of Vehicle Automation

— June 29, 2016

Connected VehiclesFor many years after J.D. Power and Associates began conducting its Initial Quality Study (IQS) 3 decades ago, most problems reported by customers in the first 90 days of vehicle ownership were either defects or non-functional features. However, in the past decade, the nature of reported problems has shifted toward what J.D. Power calls design-related issues. This could pose a serious problem for manufacturers as they rush to introduce autonomous driving technology.

At a recent meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit, J.D. Power vice president Renee Stephens presented the 2016 IQS results. The industry as a whole improved by 6% in 2016 to just 105 problems per 100 vehicles, the best improvement in 7 years. Among the reported problems, those that fall into the audio, connectivity, electronics, and navigation areas continue to represent the largest category of complaints.

Voice recognition and connected devices still befuddle consumers. Numerous manufacturers including Ford have seen ratings decline in past years as a result of difficulties using infotainment systems. “Expected reliability remains the most important consideration when purchasing a new vehicle, cited by 49% of owners,” said Stephens. “It’s critical that technology be implemented correctly or consumers lose trust.”

Potential Problems

An increasing number of new vehicles now include advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping aids. However, if features don’t work as expected by the consumer, they often get turned off after a few false positives or surprises. This highlights a potentially serious problem for the auto industry in the coming decade as semi and fully autonomous systems are increasingly rolled out in the marketplace. Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report forecasts that nearly 5 million autonomous vehicles are expected to be sold in 2025, a volume that is expected to grow to more than 40 million in 2030.

Regardless of current ADAS and whether future autonomous systems work as the engineers intend them to, it is absolutely imperative that they work as consumers expect. Autonomous capability will add significant cost to vehicles, and until there is a shift toward on-demand mobility services, consumers will have to absorb that cost. If their experience with the stepping stone technologies is excessively negative, the market will reject these technologies.

Contradictory Views

This will be particularly true if consumers realize that autonomous systems don’t work at all in the scenarios where they are most likely to want to hand over control, such as in poor weather. A major market force for automated driving is improving safety. Related to the general functionality of these systems is the problem of ethics where, as is often the case, the public has contradictory views. A new study by MIT professor Iyad Rahwan shows consumers want autonomous vehicles to minimize casualties in the event of unavoidable crashes. However, that only applies if that person is not the potential casualty. It comes down to protect everyone—but protect me first.

If society as a whole is ever going to benefit from the potential of autonomous vehicles in reducing collisions, congestion, and energy use, much will have to change in society. Consumers will have to be educated in how these systems work so that expectations can be set appropriately. If the bar is not adjusted, consumer complaints in IQS and other studies will skyrocket, and this technology could die on the vine.

 

Ralph Nader Enters Automotive Hall of Fame: A Legacy

— June 24, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2For more than 5 decades, many in Detroit and other automotive capitals have considered Ralph Nader to be public enemy number one. Despite the strong feelings against Nader throughout much of the auto industry, the lifelong consumer advocate will be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in July 2016. While Nader first came to prominence with the publication of his book Unsafe at Any Speed, the industry would probably not be where it is today without his efforts.

When Nader’s book was published in 1965, there were almost no safety-related automotive regulations. A year later, the U.S. Congress enacted the first Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and the era of automotive regulation began. Within the next few years, emissions and fuel economy were also being regulated and the automobile would never be the same.

Rules Are Good

Over the past 50 years, the industry has fought virtually every new regulation tooth and nail, and in the process, it has seriously eroded consumer trust. While repeatedly claiming that new rules were technically impossible to meet and/or too costly but ultimately managing to meet the rules (for the most part), automakers and suppliers have chipped away at their own credibility.

Thanks to those rules, engineers were forced to convert vehicle systems from mechanical to electronic controls. Beginning with basics such as ignition and later anti-lock brakes, today’s vehicles have up to 100 computers and more than 100 million lines of code. There are already production vehicles on the road from Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Tesla with semi-autonomous capabilities. Fully autonomous vehicles aren’t far off.

Despite the animus between them, the efforts of Nader and colleagues like Joan Claybrook and Clarence Ditlow on issues such as airbags have spurred the industry to develop and adopt more capable and affordable sensing and processing systems. Those same systems have become the enablers for the transformation of urban mobility that is projected in Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 white paper.

While there have undoubtedly been backward steps along the way—such as the ongoing Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal—overall, today’s vehicles are safer, more efficient, cleaner, and better performing than at any time in the 130-year history of the automobile. The industry also remains incredibly profitable, with more vehicles being sold than ever. The reality is that regulations have enhanced the transportation industry and personal mobility, rather than killing it.

An Inflection Point

The industry now stands at an inflection point, as mobility is about to be transformed. This is uncharted territory, and there are no rules that govern it. There are countless new players stepping up and hoping to grab a piece of the mobility pie. The potential to make a quantum leap in safety is there if autonomous vehicles are executed properly.

However, many of these new players are coming into vehicle control from a software-based technology space, where “fail fast and iterate” is the model. That’s fine when talking about apps. If they crash, it’s an annoyance. If an autonomous control system fails, lives may be at stake. If autonomous vehicles are executed poorly, it could drastically undermine a half-century of work by Nader and many others.

The time is right for the industry to step up to the plate and work with regulators to develop common-sense rules for autonomous vehicles that don’t stifle innovative ideas. At the same time, they must set standards for system performance and mechanisms to validate that performance.

Ralph Nader upset the apple cart 50 years ago; he deserves a place in the hall of fame. The auto industry needs to embrace that legacy for the future.

 

FordPass Points to a Future beyond Selling Cars

— June 21, 2016

CarsharingAt first glance, the FordPass smartphone app seems like an also ran, a remote control app similar to what other automakers have been making for years. However, after spending a week driving the 2017 Ford Escape and having a conversation with Don Butler, Ford’s executive director of connected vehicles and services, it’s clear that FordPass is the beginning of something potentially much larger. This is the first automaker-produced app that is specifically designed to provide services even to drivers who don’t own a vehicle from that brand.

The 2017 Escape and Fusion are the first Ford-brand models to offer SYNC Connect, the company’s new telematics service. Ever since Ford announced its SYNC mobile device connectivity system in 2007, the company has focused mainly on brought-in solutions. SYNC has used the phone to enable features like automatic emergency calls and vehicle diagnostics. Connect adds a 4G LTE data modem to the redesigned SYNC 3 that debuted in 2015. Until now, Ford had only used embedded cellular telematics on its premium Lincoln models and plug-in electric vehicles.

No Subscription Fees

The addition of a built-in data modem enables Ford to add capabilities such as remote start and lock/unlock similar to what GM’s OnStar and other telematics systems have offered for 20 years. However, unlike most other automakers, Ford has opted not to charge any subscription fees for SYNC. Basic services will be provided for 5 years at no additional charge beyond the option price of Connect. OnStar now provides 5 years of free basic services on new cars and 3 years on vehicles from 2011 on that are reactivated. Premium brands such as BMW include up to 10 years of service in the purchase price of the vehicle.

The FordPass app was developed in collaboration with San Francisco, California-based Pivotal, a cloud platform development company. Following the spring 2016 launch of FordPass, Ford also announced a $182 million investment in the company. “Ford is reorganizing into a hardware, software, and services company,” said Butler at the recent TU-Automotive Detroit conference. “We recognize that software and services cut across multiple boundaries and FordPass is a platform for delivery of some of those services.”

Shifts Are Coming

Navigant Research’s recently published white paper, Transportation Outlook: 2025 to 2050, projects shifts in the current model of vehicle ownership. As this model changes, Ford wants to be ready to manage the new relationship that people have with mobility. FordPass is a component of the automaker’s new Smart Mobility subsidiary that is structured to capitalize on business partnerships, much like Ford Credit. The full business model of FordPass is still being worked out, but one of the first elements that extends beyond vehicle control, roadside assistance, and live chat support is parking. FordPass will enable users to find, reserve, and soon even pre-pay for parking—regardless of the brand of vehicle they drive. It also will likely include some revenue-sharing component with partners in exchange for leads.

 FordPass Find Parking

FP_Find_Parking_Lumina

(Source: Ford Motor Company)

At the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford used the platform to reserve parking spaces available for media. Drivers only had to show a QR code on their phones to gain access. Other potential future additions to FordPass include localized deals with other merchants, usage based insurance, or ride-hailing systems such as the Dynamic Shuttle service that Ford is currently piloting at its Dearborn, Michigan product development campus. The shuttle service was deployed prior to the release of FordPass, but it could be easily integrated in the future along with carsharing and bike-sharing, or even transit passes.

Ultimately, for Ford and every other automaker, it comes down to expanding the scope of their business from manufacturing and selling vehicles to moving people and goods from place to place efficiently.

 

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