June 8, 2020

Remember Autonomous Vehicles? They’ve been Pandemic Impacted Too


Well it happened. The pandemic meant that there was  a use for remote controlled vehicles that could deliver groceries. But surprisingly citizens have responded with their own resilience of using online services, having grocery delivery, or preordering groceries and having them waiting curbside for pickup at the store.

Canadians have been slow to become accustomed to  online ordering, but Canada Post has been experiencing parcel deliveries of up to 1.8 million parcels a day, similar to Christmas rush levels. Consumers who have never made an online purchase make up 78 percent of customer volume with Shopify merchants, as outlined in this CBC story by Diane Buckner.

But back to those autonomous vehicles. The shuttering of the economy for the pandemic has meant  several of the factories that promised things like  a “fleet of self-driving taxis” by 2020  (General Motors) and  “one  million autonomous robotaxis” on the road by the end of  the year” (Tesla) have had to reframe those predictions.

As Bloomberg.com reports Waymo, a Google company is the company doing well with autonomous vehicles and is the development leader. it is also the only “fully driverless vehicle”  taking passengers.

I have written before how autonomous vehicles were to be the  shiny new  pennies pledging to undertake all the  pesky logistics of driving. But as reported earlier in  The Verge.com the most important aspect for any vehicle on the road is the ability to recognize and avoid vulnerable road users. You know, those pedestrians, cyclists and other wheelers that are using the street without the protection of a vehicular steel shell.

And we are not there yet.  These vehicles have challenges in “so-called edge cases”. That includes weather,  and “when someone else on the road—be it a driver, cyclist or electric scooter pilot—does something unexpected, as humans often do. The halting nature of development has delivered a large dose of humility to the world’s whip-smart mobility experts, who are showing an increased willingness to form posses and work together”.

There are “islands of autonomy” where groceries are delivered by driverless pods, and where seniors can zip around a gated retirement community.

But the investment of $14 billion US dollars has still not produced a truly autonomous vehicle.

While the field of factories will narrow, the use will broaden with online “grocery to gourmet” expansion. One analyst estimated that the use of self driving vehicles for grocery delivery would cut in half conventional trucking freight costs.

Those are the statistics that drive consolidation and working together in the autonomous vehicle field, pandemic or not.

waymoCastle_26__1_.0.0Images: Curbed.com & theHustle

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  1. Prediction: Translink fares go back to zero and stay there as autonomous electric vehicle rides fall to pennies per km.

    1. AV have their place but they are not ready as the article stated due to risk of collision with vulnerable road participants. With at least 100M vehicles on the road EVERY DAY in N America even a 99.9999% non-failure rate is too low as it means that 0.0001% have an accident which is 100,000,000 x 0.0001% = 100 accidents per day ! Even at 99.99999% it is still 10 accidents a day that will make headlines ! And that is a risk BMW, VW, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Tata, Google, Apple etc do not want to take .. yet.

      Add to that mass events if 25,000 exit BC Place and only 1000 ask their car to “pull up” and all of a sudden 500 cars try to park curb side where maybe 5 can comfortably park creating massive traffic jams.

      Add to that gated parkades, heavy rain, freezing rain, BC Ferries entrance, fire trucks and semi-blocked roads and the AV has a hard time coping with day to day normal situations that occur rarely but often enough for humans on an average day for 100M+ cars on the road in all conditions.

      Even SkyTrain or CanadaLine which is a true AV on very dedicated tracks with no humans on it has remote operators and cameras that can direct the train if need be.

      Like drones which are pilotless airplanes I can envision an AV fleet with a remote operator, where perhaps one “driver” operates 10-20 cars and directs them via camera and remote control out of difficult situations and then, yes, we may get our gourmet meal via an AV but supervised by a remote driver somewhere. Due to cost it will likely not replace public transit but augment it on remote low frequency routes in off hours.

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