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Low speed automated driving: here’s what’s needed

Read this article to find out seven things we need to have addressed before any more orders are placed for low-speed automated shuttles.

Here are seven things we need to have addressed before any more orders are placed for low-speed automated shuttles.

First: Safety

The crashworthiness of the proof-of-concept shuttles currently available is not suitable for head-on or side-impact crashes.

Even rear crashes above a few km per hour could result in unacceptable injuries from whiplash for passengers seated forward or being thrown to the floor for un-seat-belted passengers facing rear or standing.

If such vehicles will require seat belts, how will liability be assigned if a passenger not wearing a belt is thrown against (and injures) another passenger who is wearing a belt?

Second: Locations

Find locations where passengers will switch from private vehicles to shuttles on a permanent basis (not simply to take an amusement ride and then revert to personal vehicle use) —incentives programs may be necessary to achieve this;

Find locations where an expected ridership means that a fully operational service would require only modest per-boarding subsidy;

Find locations where intersection crossings that provide an elevated risk of crashes are such that the vehicles selected are sufficiently crash-worthy — in other words, injuries per passenger kilometre cannot be higher or more severe than on current bus systems;

One way to measure this is to compare the crash-safety features of the shuttles proposed to the crash-safety features of human-driven shuttles of the same size, weight, and occupancy.

Third: Security

What measures can be provided for passenger safety in the event of human mischief (assault, robbery, harassment)?

This is especially difficult because we have little comparable experience of vehicles without proximate human oversight, that is, without any authority to intervene.

If this problem is not addressed, how can it make sense to invest in 10-passenger driverless vehicles, if they cannot be used without a human operator or attendant?

Doing so is an example of not considering the full system aspects of these new vehicles.

Rather it is a case of simply being focussed on driverless technology and its hyped promises.

This is insufficient for an operational public transportation system.

Fourth: Speed

While highway speeds are unnecessary, and indeed inappropriate for an intra-urban short-haul vehicle that may have standing or un-belted passengers, it is the case that to attract choice users to these systems, the vehicles must be able to take passengers to their destinations in times reasonably similar to the use of a private vehicle.

Such time comparisons should include waiting and boarding times for the shuttle and circling and parking times for the private vehicle.

Hence, to level the playing field, and make this comparison work, such shuttles may need to travel for short periods at speeds modestly higher than 40 km/h, given appropriate circumstances.

I stress this is not about speed per se, rather it is about the perception of effective total travel times that passengers have come to expect in order to switch modes.

Fifth: Weather resilience

To be viable, a transportation service vehicle must be able to operate in almost any weather circumstances.

Conditions that are a barrier to using light vehicles or buses today could remain exceptions, but typical rain, snow and fog conditions cannot be a reason to suspend service.

This constraint may be addressed by infrastructure considerations that would benefit all vehicles, but for pervasive use, it would not be viable to require special infrastructure just for driverless shuttles.

Sixth: Braking-management

Stopping comfort is necessary for a driverless, public system. It will be unacceptable for sudden breaking to throw passengers to the floor, as can happen on existing bus systems. This is especially the case if these shuttles have no human attendant.

Seventh: Cost

Clearly, if all the above problems were solved, the first such vehicles would be made in very small numbers. Even when not handcrafted, they will still be expensive. If municipal governments want to “try out” this technology for its public transportation purposes, then they should specify exactly what this technology must do before they make any further investments.

Simply trying out what’s on offer in order to repeat the same CityMobil2 experiment to earn the title of “smart city” is not an appropriate use of public funds.

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Planning for Autonomous Vehicles: A People-Centred Approach

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