Safety and People First on World Safety Day

Although the moniker for the World Safety Summit On Autonomous Technology is a great descriptor of the conference held on October 2nd at Levi Stadium in the heart of Silicon Valley, the overarching theme was about people. Sure, there were autonomous vehicle technology stalwarts, like Intel, Nvidia, and Cruise (GM) and start-ups like Voyage, AutonomouStuff, and Local Motors, but even they emphasized the importance of putting people first and delivering an excellent mobility experience.

One of the fathers of the industry, Aurora Cofounder and CEO Chris Urmson, emphasized the importance of safety as a given when he stated that “We must take the time and not rush it [autonomous vehicles] to the market, unreasonably.” His comments somewhat mirror those of Author and Mobility Expert Dr. Larry Burns who stated that the safety leader is going to be the market winner (see this interview with Burns).

The challenge, according to Urmson, is understanding what is good enough when it comes to safety. A big part of the challenge is measurement and, as pointed out by David Zuby, Executive Vice President and Chief Research Officer, Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, testing must eventually occur in the real world. And a foundational element for any of the companies working in this space is that they must develop a culture of safety and improvement if they are ever going to keep up with the nuances of safely driving in the real-world.

MADD’s Adam Vanek, CEO, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, bullish on the technology, as they believe the implementation of autonomous vehicles will greatly reduce the number of victims of drunk and drugged drivers. Led by: Kelly Nantel, Vice President, National Safety Council, Vanek was one of several panelists discussing the opportunities that autonomous vehicles bring and the importance of communicating those benefits to the general public and that effort is being led by the cross-industry group, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE).

Automated mobility will benefit teenagers by preventing them from being distracted while they text, so said Nancy Bell, Policy Counsel, Automated Driving & IoT Policy, Intel Corporation. Spoken somewhat tongue in cheek, Bell was pointing out that many would rather be connected electronically than to a steering wheel.

And a better experience isn’t just for the kids as, at the other end of the age spectrum, Dr. Alain Kornhauser, Transportation Program Director, Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering, moderated a panel with several seniors who have experience with autonomous vehicle services.

Jerry Neece, a resident of a retirement community of approximately 4,000 in the hills of San Jose indicated his first reaction to an automated vehicle was that the steering wheel would have to be pried from his hands. He was surprised at how he quickly he and his neighbors embraced the service for the convenience and the thought of being in control was replaced with convenience. When asked what could be done to improve the experience, he suggested improving vehicle ingress and egress.

Regarding designing vehicles that allow for an improved experience, one of the displays at the event was of the electric, 3D-printed, Local Motors Olli. Local Motors was one of several innovative exhibitors at the event that are part of the larger mobility ecosystem, such as drone cargo planes, driving simulation tools, and solar cells from Alta Devices (e.g. to power lightweight drones and trickle charge autonomous vehicles).

Velodyne Lidar’s Vice President of Communications Sally Frykman, the organizer of this all-day event, provides further color about the panels and the exhibitors in the above interview.

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