Autonomous Vehicles Face Privacy, Security and Liability Issues

June 24, 2015  - By
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Chris Urmson, Google, speaks at ITS America on the future of the self-driving car.

Chris Urmson, Google, speaks at ITS America on the future of the self-driving car.

Plus: Resurgence in indoor location-based marketing, ITS America annual meeting report

Autonomous vehicle technology has made industry-smart people pause and think what the consequences will be if cars and other platforms drive themselves. Will there be a huge increase in traffic when everyone decides to call their cars to grab a loaf of bread at a store? Many of these topics were discussed at the ITS America annual meeting held in Pittsburgh May 31-June 3. In other location news, there seems to be a resurgence in location-based marketing and indoor positioning conferences, leading one to believe that large retailers are finally taking notice.

By Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy

PITTSBURGH — Chris Urmson, Google’s self-driving cars director, told autonomous vehicle proponents what they wanted to hear during his keynote presentation at the recent Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s annual meeting here. He told them that self-driving vehicles will cut down on the 33,000 U.S. traffic deaths each year (“the equivalent of a 737 falling out of the sky five days a week,” he said) and save time and productivity wasted.

Urmson also said his goal, and his team’s goal, at Google was to ensure son doesn’t have to get a driver’s license, a trend that has become popular with urbanized youth.

The message was upbeat and timely for the crowd of government and university transportation attendees. However, liability issues continue to surround autonomous vehicle development.

“In the end, you are always going to have that guy with the ’57 Chevy in his garage. How do you make the autonomous vehicle work with it? It’s akin to the horse and car,” said Ken Leonard, U.S. Transportation Department ITS Joint Program Office director.

Urmson said he has had “long conversations with insurance companies.” He said that insurance companies are trying to accurately assess risk, and while the model may change, money will still flow, just through a different path.

One ITS America panel discussed security and privacy issues surrounding connected and autonomous vehicles. One panelist said that while privacy may be dead, security is the real big deal with recent reports indicating that cars’ electronics can be compromised.

Others believe it’s going to take more time than Google’s assertion that autonomous vehicles will be on the road in five years. “Lessons from the past temper our optimism. While air bags were patented in 1953, and were introduced on luxury models in the 1970s, it wasn’t until the 1990s before there were big penetrations,” said James Anderson, Rand Corp. senior behavioral scientist. “Key takeaways are automaker opposition about the liability [of new technology] and lack of consumer support.”

The ITS America show floor before the crowds arrive.

The ITS America show floor before the crowds arrive.

Anderson said that yes, the lives saved will be a big driver of autonomous vehicles, but congestion will increase, making way for super commuting. “Public transit will also go through big changes. An economic disruption will occur — do you know how much New York City makes from parking alone?” he said. “Safety doesn’t sell in the early stages, as many benefits don’t go directly to the user.”

Steve Bayless, ITS America vice president of technology, said the solution is not to kill all the lawyers, as there will be continued liability surrounding new in-car technology. “Embedded devices were developed at a time when they were not connected, but the environment has shifted around systems,” he said. “The systems are usually vulnerable because there are poor requirements. Companies have no explicit security policy, or it is poorly specified, or specified too late after design and development.”

Uber Gets Into Autonomous Game

The ITS America’s closing keynote speaker was Uber’s head of global public policy, Corey Owens, who said that one of the best cases for autonomous vehicles was the lack of use by consumers of their cars. “In some areas, owning a car is non-negotiable. But how little these cars are used — as many as 95 percent stand idle,” he said.

Uber announced that Google former head of mapping, Brian McClendon, is joining the company as it develops its own navigation, mapping and transportation systems.

It’s no secret that Uber is targeting continued autonomous vehicle interest, as it created an Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. It was also rumored that it was a bidder, with Baidu, to buy Nokia’s HERE digital mapping company. (See more on Baidu in Janice Partyka’s June blog.)

One major company trying to find its way into connected vehicles, Xerox, exhibited at ITS America in the show’s Entrepreneurial Village. Xerox has installed its smart parking products in such systems as LA Express Park, ParkyIndy and others.

Xerox has partnered with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor for testing connected and autonomous vehicles. The company is working with automotive OEMs on electronic tolls, parking, mobile payment and other projects, said David Cummins, Xerox senior vice president and managing director of parking and mobility solutions.

The U.S. Department of Transportation booth at ITS America focused on the connected car.

The U.S. Department of Transportation booth at ITS America focused on the connected car.

Cummins moderated a panel where small companies talked about new technologies and applications like cities without bus stops where a bus is continually moving to the riders on demand.

In terms of autonomous vehicle use, Cummins envisions an increase in ride-sharing over the next 5-10 years in urban areas. “Initially, there will be a spike in congestion [from autonomous vehicles]. But ultimately, there will be less car ownership,” he said.

Thoughts on ITS America’s Annual Meeting

ITS America celebrated its 25th annual meeting in Pittsburgh to an enthusiastic crowd of 2,000 attendees and 125 exhibitors. However, I am not sure if this conference has grown at all, despite claims it had the largest attendance last year (co-located with the larger, and more private-company-friendly, ITS World Congress in Detroit).

Despite two decades of rhetoric that it is a private-public partnership, the meeting has the feel of a government and university gathering with a few private companies thrown in who want to do business with them. This is a sad thing, as ITS America has embraced the future of autonomous vehicles with excellent speakers.

Having the meeting in the Bay Area next summer will be a good start to altering the perception that ITS America’s annual meeting is just a government show to “show-the-flag” for private companies.

Mid-Year Report on Indoor Location

Earlier this month, executives attended the Place Conference in New York to get an update on indoor location markets and technology for store chains, large department stores and malls. It was also a chance for technology vendors to show new capabilities that have recently reached the market, said Bruce Krulwich, Grizzly Analytics president, who has authored a report on 150 indoor positioning companies.

Krulwich said, as the year reaches it’s the halfway point, new and more accurate systems are hitting the market. “This includes LED lighting-based systems from Acuity and GE Lighting, and proprietary radio technologies from companies like Quuppa, all of which deliver accuracy of around 10 centimeters with very fast response,” he said. “Some companies, including New York-based Spreo, are improving the quality using standard approaches, like beacons and motion sensing. They are achieving strong accuracy and responsiveness through software improvements. At the same time, hardware-based indoor location technologies, such as Ireland-based DecaWave’s chip and other UWB systems, are coming to market inside highly innovative consumer devices.”

Going forward, the biggest challenge is moving from the lab to the real world, Krulwich said. “Deployments such as Game Stop stores and Taubman malls are great moves in this direction,” he said.

In other location industry news:

  • Note to meeting organizers: Do your due diligence to ensure conference dates don’t overlap. Having two major transportation conferences on the same week was challenging to attend: ITS America Annual Meeting and Telematics-Detroit.
  • The brass at Nokia continue to court a consortium of German car makers to buy its HERE navigation business, according to Bloomberg. The consortium, which consists of Audi, BMW and Daimler, is hung up on the price tag of $4.5 billion — and the deadline for bidders has passed, according to the story.

About the Author:


Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.

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