Embracing the Inevitable Changes of Self-Driving Vehicles


Read today’s news and you’d think fully autonomous vehicles—commercial vehicles, in particular—will be everywhere in the very near future. With headlines like these, it’s no wonder:

Self-Driving Trucks Could be on Highways in 3 to 4 Years

U.S. and Europe Race to be First to Self-Driving Trucks

Ford Plans Self-Driving Car for Ride Share Fleets in 2021

But when will the rubber meet the road, so to speak, for autonomous vehicles?  And what happens then? As we drive toward this widespread technological innovation, are we thinking through the social impacts of self-driving vehicles? What will happen to truck drivers, for example?  According to the American Trucking Industry, there are currently 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States.

There’s still quite a long road between “here” and “there.” Not only do we have to consider policy and regulation, but there’s the issue of infrastructure—lights, signs, and lines on the road. What happens if a sign is obscured by a tree? An intersection light is out? Or road lines have disappeared due to crumbling pavement?

Autonomous Considerations

Now, let’s throw in weather conditions. In San Diego, where SmartDrive is based, we rarely have to contend with bad weather. But if a winter storm covers a road with snow and ice—or in our case, dense fog—how would an autonomous vehicle know to change its route?

How would a fully autonomous bus know when passengers have entered or exited the vehicle, or when they are safely seated? What if no more seats are available? What if a disabled passenger needs a ramp or a cyclist needs to access the bike rack?  There’s no shortage of questions and, thanks to the most advanced current or developing technologies, answers are emergent.

As Melissa Cefkin, principal researcher of human-centered systems at Silicon Valley’s Nissan Research Center, recently noted, “We need to teach vehicles so they move in a socially acceptable manner.

So the industry has to overcome a number of challenges before before autonomous vehicles can truly replicate the “human side” of driving. While automakers are rolling “smart” cars and trucks off assembly lines today, industry has yet to solve for the incredible complexities associated with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, which are precursors to fully realizing the vision of driverless transportation. Intelligent vehicles must be able to … Next Page »

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Steve Mitgang is the CEO of SmartDrive Systems, a San Diego-based technology company that provides video analysis, transportation intelligence, and other services used by commercial fleets. Follow @

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