The Evolution of the Cooperative Vehicle

Cooperative Vehicle Highway Systems focus on sensors, telemetrics, intelligent driver override, roadside computation, telecommunications, emergency technologies and so on. The stress is on technological solutions that address a problem with a large social and human component—e.g., human safety, congestion, efficiency, and reliable automobility.

CVHS’ goals form a virtuous circle: reduce accident counts and severity and improve the performance and efficiency of existing transportation infrastructure while reducing fuel use, emissions, and congestion. These are a lot of wins.
In general, when thinking about CVHS, we see two components: vehicle and roadside infrastructure. Also key are intelligent communications between car and roadside, many-to-many pair-wise communications between proximate cars, and of course communication among all of these and the cloud. But there is another critical and elusive component—the driver. I’ll return to this.

CVHS is highly related to the Connected Vehicle, and sometimes the distinction get blurred in discussion. I see them as two adjacent phases on a continuum as we equip vehicles, roadways, and communication networks for the Connected Age of Automobility already underway. The Cooperative Vehicle is focused on safety and driver assistance including driver override, while the Connected Vehicle is focused more on driver information and trip assistance, including infotainment and payment services. But, a portion of the enabling fabric can be shared.

A key distinction is that many Cooperative functions involve intrusive control—generally braking and steering—when the driver is perhaps distracted or not responding appropriately. Meanwhile, some Connected functions have the potential to contribute to the distraction problem that is one of the motivators for the Cooperative functions in the first place.

All of  this makes the human a mystery component. Will the net benefit make us safer? Will automation make our species’ driving skills atrophy? Will anyone be able to parallel park in 30 years?

A well-reported phenomena called risk compensation tells us that drivers tend to invest a perceived increment in safety by driving a bit faster or a bit more aggressively. Humans seem to have a risk budget they are eager to spend. The problem is more than 50% of the people in accidents are victims. If you count all immediate family members to people actually in the cars the percentage of innocents is much higher.

Surely, if one begins to trust that their vehicle can handle breaking and steering, the use of infotainment systems and gadgets (Connected or not) will be perceived as safer. And that may not be a problem in most cases—we hope. But how good does Cooperative technology have to be before Connected technology will not make us less safe?

There are liability reasons ensuring that Cooperative technology will likely never by installed as an aftermarket upgrade, unless by the original manufacturer. And there will clearly be resistance to letting the car “take control” from a driver. Could aftermarket warning systems that beep rather than brake or whistle rather than steer, be the way to erode that resistance? Could aftermarket Connected Vehicle platforms be the Trojan Horse to get fledgling Cooperative Vehicle functionality past first base? I think so.

We also know from experience that mandatory safety equipment requires user acceptance, which in turn implies slow introduction and consumer-led market penetration prior to mandate. This may be the best reason that aftermarket Connected Vehicle technology that has at least some Cooperative-like functions will the best accelerator to Cooperative Vehicle evolution.

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