ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The self-driving concept car Mercedes-Benz showed off at the International CES and Detroit auto show this month provided a window into a not-too-distant future. Automakers and suppliers are working on cars that not only maneuver independently but also communicate with one another and with the surrounding infrastructure, creating a buzzing community among themselves.
But this transformational technology raises significant issues, and as director of both the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and the Michigan Mobility Transformation Cen- ter here, Peter Sweatman tackles those issues head-on.
The transformation center is building a 32-acre "mini city" for testing of connected and automated vehicles. The facility, which includes roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, simulated buildings and other driving obstacles, is to open this spring.
Sweatman, 68, spoke with Special Correspondent Julie Halpert this month about what a community of cars could someday look like in a connected environment.
Q: Tell me about the relationship between vehicle-to-vehicle connected cars and self-driving cars.
A: The connected vehicles we've been working on, these various vehicles and infrastructures are talking to each other in a local area. And then occasionally, when the vehicle decides there might be some risk or threat, then it's going to alert you in some way or even intervene in some way to help you. Autonomous means all the technology you need is being carried on your vehicle, so you're not relying on external information, so the vehicle can drive itself.
What's the time frame for the rollout of V2V and autonomous driving?
To some extent, it's going to happen at the same time. In three to five years, we'll have substantial deployment of this V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure, and at the same time, we will see an increasing amount of automation. The top-level driverless vehicle is an eight- to 10-year horizon.
You're working on some of the obstacles that remain. What are some of them?
Dedicated short-range communications is the wireless regime that's used by the V2V system. The range of that varies. It could be 200 meters or 2,000 meters, depending on various conditions like tree cover and the height of buildings. The work that's been going on has been to make sure we don't get false positives from these kinds of interactions.
One example is we have a vehicle on an overpass and we have a vehicle underneath on the freeway. So drivers might be getting a warning or even an intervention in their vehicle on the basis of an imminent collision that's not really going to happen.
Tell me more about the ecosystem you're creating.
We will see various ways in which vehicles will communicate in an opt-in way, so it's not just the vehicles talking to each other, but the drivers are deciding to go a little further and do more.
So you could choose to send out a signal that says you're doing a long trip, [so you can let] other similarly equipped vehicles know that you're there and that maybe you'd want to travel in a little platoon or a convoy. ... You could end up so you're surrounded by other similarly equipped vehicles.
How are you addressing the legal implications?
For many years, it's been absolutely crystal clear that the driver is responsible. With automation, we expect to see there will be some sort of transfer of liability from being totally with the individual to at least partly with the manufacturer. ... [One possibility is] usage-based insurance. ... If you're driving a vehicle with a certain level of automation, the premium will be adjusted accordingly. Maybe you don't pay a flat fee, but you pay depending on how far you drive or perhaps under what kind of conditions you drive in.
What's it like designing a vehicle network from the ground up?
We would view the connected and automated technologies as transformational. It creates a situation where mobility becomes a service rather than a series of products. The real progress will be in the commercial and the social aspects in terms of how that technology is used. So once we go to a fully connected and automated vehicle system, then we can have a system based on self-driving vehicles where you can use your smartphone to call up a ride and it can take you to your destination and go away. ... So you may choose not to own a vehicle.
I believe ... this kind of mobility system will enable people to get a lot more out of their lives. ... The right machine will be readily available at a very good price.