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TC Seminar: Yoram Shiftan

Much of the recent research on automated vehicles has focused on full automation—the day when driverless cars, trucks and transit will be the norm. Experts predict we will reach that point somewhere between 2025 and 2070. That is a large window of time during which drivers and customers are predicted to gradually adapt to the new technology. As with all major technological leaps, there will be early adopters who will jump at the chance to own or use a driverless car and skeptics who will wait until all conventional options are extinguished. Yoram Shiftan, of the Transportation Research Institute at Technion in Israel and the current Israel Institute Visiting Professor at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been studying people’s perceptions and behaviors relating to autonomous vehicles. In a May 10th TC Seminar, Shiftan described the current state of research and his ongoing work studying travel behaviors surrounding the shift to driverless communities. He says safety, cost, and time savings are the major factors currently influencing consumer behavior and the potential options for autonomous vehicles going forward.

Shiftan reports that car companies worldwide are out in front of consumers when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Hyundai, Cadillac, Tesla, Audi, Google, and several other automakers will be selling some type of autonomous vehicle by the end of 2018. BMW, Volvo and Nissan will each have a line of driverless cars by 2020.

“It’s hard to study the full behavioral implications of driverless vehicles, because we aren’t there yet,” says Shiftan. “What we can gather at this stage is data on people’s stated preferences when asked to envision the availability of driverless vehicles.”

What is clear, according to Shiftan, is that “The public’s acceptance of autonomous vehicles depends on trust—will these vehicles be safe?” In fact the insurance industry’s willingness to cover such vehicles is still a question mark, so much so that Volvo says it will self-insure their autonomous vehicles when they come on the market. Shiftan also noted the potential for both cost and time savings (following safety) are two other big factors that may positively influence early adoption. Preference studies have identified young males and people who self-identify a multi-taskers as two early adopter groups.

Policy implications for AVs are numerous, Shiftan says, and include decisions on whether to continue to invest in public transport systems, given much of the demand for car-sharing and eventually AVs will be captured from transit riders. There are also ethical judgments that automakers, users, and policymakers will have to consider. Questions like, “How should a full AV system prioritize safety? And, should the owner or rider’s safety be paramount or should bystander’s safety prevail?” will need answers soon, according to Shiftan. These are questions that society has already asked and answered regarding current-day automobile and roadway designs. Those question may prove more difficult when it’s a matter of programming a vehicle or a network to respond to inevitable no-win situations.

 

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