Post Event Coverage: A Data-Driven Future: The Future of Mobility and Transportation in 2039

Western Digital X WIRED @Milpitas, California

As the automotive industry transforms itself around automation, connectivity, and alternative forms of energy, the future of transportation is indeed looking completely different. Creating this future of transportation isn’t easy, but it is anticipated that it can lead to lower congestion, fewer vehicular accidents, and reduced pollution.

Looking 20 years into the future, Western Digital (WD) and WIRED, bought together last week several thought leaders, engineers, and technical experts, including Counterpoint analysts at WD’s corporate facility in Milpitas, California, to uncover the key drivers of change in the automotive ecosystem.

An immersive tech-driven experience, simulating an autonomous vehicle, was also specially set-up for the delegates, providing a live demonstration of what it will be like to be encased by the interactive screens of an autonomous car. There was no wheel to be behind on!

Autonomous Vehicles Readiness: Technology vs Regulations

Kicking off discussions in the backdrop of an unfortunate incident last year, which lead to the tragic death of a pedestrian hit by an autonomous vehicle under test by Uber in Tempe, Arizona, Miriam Chaum, head of Public Policy for Self-Driving cars for Uber, soberly narrated how Uber had learned an incredible amount through the process, and remained deeply regretful for the collision that occurred. Since that episode, Uber has resumed testing of its self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, with two persons now on standby alert in all vehicles, ready to take emergency control if needed. Arizona too had immediately mandated autonomous driving developers to further review their safety processes, resulting in a public trust issue, as communities and municipalities debated whether to allow self-driving vehicles to be tested on their roads at all.

Bryant Walker Smith, associate professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law, emphasized that “Automated driving safety does not simply come down to a test. It is not a one-time occurrence, but a lifelong commitment, much like a marriage.”

Evidently, the major dilemma faced by the autonomous vehicle industry and communities is that, in the absence of clear regulatory standards in the U.S, how do they feel about testing such self-driven vehicles on public streets? Paradoxically, while the tech industry has grown fearful of government interventions over data privacy and antitrust issues, it appears that the autonomous vehicle industry is pro-actively seeking regulatory guidelines. Unfortunately, the initial attempts by Congress to pass legislation on the use of autonomous vehicles, have been stalled in the Senate.

Supporting the case for urgent regulatory developments, Robert Grant, VP Government Affairs at GM Cruise, clarified that “Nobody in the industry, including Cruise, was advocating against government regulation”, with the innumerable variables and inputs that needed to be managed, and as “there still remains a lot that needs to be understood.”

Grant’s conclusions around the complexity of the technology, underscore the core issue that is raising doubts in everybody’s mind, i.e. can we really come to terms in trusting a self-driving, computer-controlled vehicle to make the right decision at all times? Autonomous technology requires automakers to pack in and prove out unprecedented levels of intelligence and processing capability into their vehicles – something that OEMs have never been done before.

Autonomous Vehicles to Reshape Transportation

As vehicles evolve to be perpetually connected and autonomous, the future of vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication is correspondingly getting extremely complex, as they must learn to “talk” with everything on the road. Communicating consistently and flawlessly between a diverse range of on-board computers, radar and sensors are critical to preventing collisions, avoiding pedestrians, reducing traffic and much more – all while transmitting split-second driving decisions processed through the edge or cloud. Technologist, pushing boundaries, are continually evaluating the role of data, infrastructure, and the technology ecosystem necessary to deploy smarter and safer vehicles, as well as to enable mobility as a service (MaaS).

Despite the various issues surrounding self-driving vehicles, major players will continue to pursue a vision that will ultimately reshape transportation, particularly in heavily urbanized areas of the world. For example, in Los Angeles, infamous for its traffic congestion, a public-private collaboration has recently been established to facilitate innovative transport solutions. Termed “Urban Movement Labs”, the alliance brings together city transportation agencies and private sector players like Waymo, Lyft, and Verizon to develop alternate transit options, including self-driving technology.

As technology and use cases move forward, Uber’s Miriam Chaum confirmed that more and more cities are expressing interest in planning their transportation systems to be future-ready. There is an acknowledgement and growing awareness now of many other broader possibilities for this emerging technology, and on their beneficial applications within the transportation sector.

In concluding, by 2039, along with emerging developments in AI, self-driving cars will need to continually address cybersecurity issues, technological barriers, regulatory concerns and reliability challenges to win the confidence of transportation departments and commuters. Connectivity will also generate valuable automotive data, creating newer opportunities for safer, more comfortable rides. However, even 20 years from now, autonomous technology will still have a long way to go.