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100% Electric Vehicles

EVs, Automation, and Artificial-Intelligence: Opportunities, and Threats

Image Credit – Yanfeng Interiors

100 Years War

Were you aware that 3,285 people were killed today, in a war that has been going on for decades, and that each year at least 20 million people have been injured in that same war? You didn’t know that? Well, it is not surprising, as this particular war is not well publicised, and rarely makes the news. This is the war that takes place between frail bodied people, often women, and children, and that unforgiving machine of destruction, the motor car.

If that many people were killed, and injured, in a war anywhere in the world, it would definitely make headline news. As it is, the carnage is swept up, the bodies buried, and everyone tries not to notice. We get in our cars, try not to think about the risk, and continue our driving, sometimes well, and sometimes inattentively, and always assuming that we will arrive at our destination in comfort, and safety.

Autonomous Vehicles

The one time you can be sure that a fatal accident reaches the news headlines, is one involving an autonomous vehicle. I say autonomous, but so far, only semi-autonomous vehicles have been involved in any fatal incidents. In the fatal incidents involving semi-autonomous electric vehicles, the common element has been a human operative relying on the semi-autonomous system, as if it were fully autonomous.

The 6 Levels of Autonomy

Where writers, and readers, at CleanTechnica are, probably, fully aware of the different levels of autonomy in electric vehicles, the general public are less so, and probably, don’t make the distinctions between fully autonomous, at level 5, almost fully autonomous, at level 4, and only semi-autonomous, at levels 1, to 3. (See the table at the end). They might well already be using the level of autonomy provided by level 0, where automatic systems aid them in their day-to-day driving, such as anti-lock braking systems, traction control, reversing cameras, obstacle warnings, and cruise control, but have no experience of an automated system completely taking over the function of driving, to any extent.

They are probably also unaware that in the fatal crash involving an Uber vehicle, Uber might have partially caused it by  cutting corners to save money on its autonomous-system’s sensors. For the public, all Autonomous vehicles were created equal, and so, a failure of one is an indictment of them all.

Built in Failure

It seems to me that levels 1, to 3, of autonomy, have failure built into them. The autonomous system relies on the human driver to complete its functions, and the driver is relying on the autonomous system to complete the driver’s functions. In other words, neither the driver, nor the autonomous system, has full responsibility for control of the vehicle. Anyone with any experience of life will know that when nobody has full responsibility for something, then sooner, or later, that something is going to go badly wrong. It seems inevitable that any semi-autonomous system will be inherently unsafe, and that the only safe system will be either complete autonomous control by the system, or complete control by the driver, with only minimal assistance from an automatic system.

Safety in Autonomy

One thing that also seems to be true, is that a fully autonomous system is likely to be a lot safer than a human driver in almost all cases. Artificial intelligence, does not fall asleep, never gets bored, and inattentive, or distracted by something more interesting than the road ahead. Artificial intelligence is not panicked, and taken by surprise, by events, but is calm, and attentive, at all times, and reacts instantaneously, and logically, in every situation.

Artificial intelligence is not hampered by failing eyesight, or hearing, and can even see in the dark, using radar, and infrared sensors. It might be the case that a fully autonomous vehicle, unlike a human driver, would no longer require headlights, or fog lights, but just running lights to make it more visible in the dark. Artificial intelligence does not become impaired by drink, or drugs, or the desire to seek thrills, and excitement, by aggressive driving. Autonomous vehicles do not experience road rage. All this being so, the speed limits could be higher for autonomous vehicles, driving closer together, so allowing better traffic flow, and higher density.

The Hive Mind

In addition to the systems that current autonomous vehicles rely on, they could also communicate with each other on the road, so that every vehicle is aware of every other vehicle in its immediate vicinity, knowing their speed, position, and intended next manoeuvre, or heading, so making a traffic collision even less likely. Where human drivers are provided with traffic lights, and traffic signs to control driving behaviour on the road, an autonomous vehicle could receive information from roadside transmitters, and so all the traffic lights, and traffic signs could be done away with, once all vehicles are autonomous.

It might even be the case that nothing equivalent to traffic lights would be needed. At a junction, all the autonomous vehicles approaching that junction could agree speed, and road position with each other to allow all the vehicles to go over the crossing without stopping, and just pass through the gaps between vehicles. Humans could not calculate that, but computers could. All the autonomous cars in the city could adopt a hive mind, and flow through the roads, driving very close together, with ease, and rapidity, like a murmuration of starlings in the sky, a nest of ants, or a shoal of fish.

Perfect Control

Where human drivers sometimes ignore traffic lights, or break the speed limit, autonomous vehicles would obey the rules perfectly without exception. All of these possibilities could lead to an end to the huge number of road deaths, once all vehicles are autonomous. Traffic collisions would be reduced to system failures, or where pedestrians, and cyclists, have been at fault. In future, cities, and roads could be better designed to keep vehicles, cycles, and pedestrians, separated. We would not need traffic policemen, and insurance would be very cheap.

Combined Benefits

We assume that autonomous vehicles will bring many benefits, but it is not easy to predict. The obvious benefit is that it can combine the benefits of private, and public transport in one.

City Bus Blues

Even though I know the theoretical benefits of public transport, such as reducing CO2, and pollution, and easing congestion on roads, I rarely use it. At my previous house I had a bus stop almost at the bottom of my front garden, just around the corner from my hedge, and if I wanted to use the bus, I only needed to step out of the front door, down my garden path to the front gate, and from there it was literally 20 yards walk, passing my own front garden, to the bus stop. All very convenient, right? But it was all downhill from there.

The service was somewhat sporadic, so, sometimes I would get a bus almost straight away, and sometimes wait, and wait, and wait, something I hate. Then when I got on the bus, it wasn’t that comfortable; bumps in the road would have me bouncing up, and down, on the relatively hard seat.

The bus was a big double-deck diesel affair, and was quite noisy. It went along briskly enough, but seemed for ever to be stopping at bus stops, or in the traffic, and then, there was the guided tour of suburbia. From my house, there was a wide, and straight main road, about a mile away, that went directly into the City, but the bus wanted more fairs than just mine, so we would wind our way through suburban roads, picking people up, before finally making it to the City, jam-packed with passengers. Believe me, the bus was the last resort.

Cycling Heaven

Normally I would cycle in, which took me about 15 mins straight to my office, with no walking, where the bus would take at least 30 mins, cost me a bus fare, and leave me with a mile to walk to the office. The bike-route even took me along a traffic-free path along the local river, a nice start to the morning, watching little plumes of mist held in the golden sun-beams, while majestic swans paddle unhurriedly by.

Robo-Taxi

How different it would be if I was able to make an entry in a smart-phone app, say when, and where, I want to go, and a few minutes later, get a little “ding” on my phone to say my robo-taxi is waiting. I get in, carry on reading what I was reading, and the car zooms off, taking the quickest route to my office. After 10 minutes, I get out at the end of my journey, with no worries about parking, as the car goes off to its next assignment, and my account is automatically debited with the affordable fare. Now that might have been more tempting than cycling, especially in the rain.

The Key to Congestion?

Some people believe that such systems would make car ownership a thing of the past, and so, greatly reduce congestion, and the need for car-parks at supermarkets, and places of work. I am inclined to agree to some extent. For a lot of people that would be cheaper than car ownership, and without the responsibilities, such as maintenance, parking, annual tests, vehicle tax, and insurance, and charging-up.

For some people, their car is a symbol of their status: the make, and model is a statement to the world of how wealthy, and important they are. It gives a boost to their flagging ego to be seen driving by in their brand-new, shiny, autonomous vehicle. They are not about to forego having a car of their own.

When they arrive at their destination they can tell their autonomous car to go, and park itself, or find a charging station, while they do their shopping, or whatever business they want to attend to. Some people think this might make the roads even more congested, as autonomous vehicles drive around empty, heading for a parking space, or just going round, and round in circles waiting for their owners to need them again. We would go from vehicles with only one occupant, taking up space on the road, to vehicles with no occupant at all. It is hard to predict, and I am not about to try. Only time will tell.

Too Popular

A further possibility is that electric robo-taxis will be so cheap that everyone will want to use them in preference to buses, and cycling. That would create even more congestion, as one bus can carry about 40 people, whereas, if each person was in an autonomous vehicle, that is potentially 40 vehicles, instead of the one bus. Cycling is also more healthy for people, (sans traffic-fumes), so people swapping the bike for the robo-taxi, would not be such a good thing, either.

This increase in congestion does seem likely, as even before automation, Uber ride hailing services, have created the situation were many of the vehicles driving about the city, causing congestion, are Uber drivers, looking for passengers.

Parking Paradise

One possibility I have heard about recently, is that when autonomous vehicles go to the car park, they will take up a lot less space. Have you ever parked in the supermarket car park, and on your return, can’t get back in the car because someone has parked so close that you can’t open the door, or you have been blocked in by someone parking where they shouldn’t? I did see one unfortunate fellow who had to resort to climbing through the back, to clamber over the seats to get himself behind the wheel. Now, if all vehicles were autonomous, parking with nobody inside, then nobody needs to open the doors, so they can park a lot closer together, so getting more cars in each row.

In a normal car-park there might be a row of cars with an access road behind them, and then a row of cars in front of them, nose to nose, with an access road behind them too. With autonomous cars, provided they are able to communicate with each other, there could be another row of cars directly behind the first row, and another row of cars behind the second row. Because these are autonomous cars, all connected, and cooperating with each other, cars at the back of the row, will move out of the way, to allow cars at the front to get out. They could even rearrange themselves afterwards to make the empty spaces more accessible.

More Advantages

So, that is another advantage. There are many others, such as enabling people who might not otherwise be able to drive, to either own, or use, an autonomous vehicle: perhaps those too young, those with medical conditions, and those with age related problems, or otherwise too disabled, to drive. It would also make long journeys much more restful, or productive, as instead of driving, one could work, read, or watch a movie, take refreshments, or sleep, or a combination of these.

Depending on the range of batteries, by the time autonomous vehicles are the norm, it might also be possible to complete long journeys without stopping at all, bar “comfort breaks”.  This would making journeys by autonomous vehicles quicker, as well as less stressful.

There being no driver to pay, one would assume that the robo-taxi would be relatively cheap to make use of, so enabling people who would not be able to afford their own car, or to make much use of conventional taxis, to enjoy the convenience of door-to-door transport in the comfort of an autonomous vehicle.

Downsides

Of course there are downsides too. Automation, and artificial intelligence are likely, in the near future, to create a situation where at least 50% of the population will be unemployed, and, indeed, unemployable. Automation simply cannot work in the current, free-market system. Yes, we will have robots capable of producing everything, and anything, anyone could think of, but there’ll be few people able to buy all of these products, if 50% of the population is unemployed.

Under the current system, unemployed people do not have the financial resources to participate in society, so we can look forward to a dystopian future when 50% of the population neither contribute to, nor benefit from, this wonderful automated, high-tech society. This will start with all the people currently employed in driving, when replaced with autonomous vehicles, and in warehouses where selecting, orders will be fully automated. Along with the redundancy of drivers would come the demise of traffic cops, motoring insurance clerks, and all those motoring related jobs.

Even without autonomy, EVs will spell the end for service-and-repair shops, in general, and businesses making, selling, and fitting, all the soon-to-be-redundant spare-parts, like oil-filters, spark-plugs, fan-belts, exhausts, batteries, brakes, and clutches. With the spread of automation, and AI, the job losses would start in relatively unskilled jobs, but soon extend to the jobs of many highly knowledgeable, skilled decision-makers, so, consequently, no-one is immune.

One Solution

The only solution to this is to introduce a national basic income, at the earliest possible time, to replace the current system of welfare benefits, and pensions, and for this to be sufficient to allow everyone to fully participate in our society. People will be able to find much more fulfilling ways of using their time than working in full-time jobs. Since I retired, I am having a great life, and don’t know how I ever found the time for a full-time job.

 

  The 6 Levels of Autonomy, 0 – 5

Level

Name

Definition

Steer

Speed

Brakes

In

Charge

Backup

Human driver monitors the driving environment

0

No Automation

In this driving mode, there is the full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning, or intervention systems

Human

Human

Human

1

Drive Assistance

In this driving mode, there is specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering, or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment, but with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task

Human and Robot

Human

Human

2

Partial Automation

In this driving mode, there is specific execution by one, or more driver assistance systems of both steering, and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment, but with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task

Robot

Human

Human

Automated driving system monitors the driving environment

3

Conditional Automation

In this driving mode, there is specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, but with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene

Robot

Robot

Human

4

High Automation

In this driving mode, there is specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene

Robot

Robot

Robot

5

Full Automation

In this driving mode, there is full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway, and environmental conditions with no requirement for any intervention by a human driver

Robot

Robot

Robot

Table – Wikipedia

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Written By

As a child, I had the unrealistic expectation that I would learn about, and understand, absolutely everything, during the course of growing up. Now, at the other end of life, I am fully aware of how much I have not learnt, and do not understand, and yet, remain interested in everything. My education, starting with an arts degree, and going on to postgraduate studies, in everything from computer science, to hypnotism, reflected my broad interests. For 20 years, I worked in local government, and am now retired, living in North Leicestershire in the UK, with plenty of time for doing whatever I like. I have always had a keen interest in everything alternative, which includes renewable energy and energy efficiency and, of course, electric vehicles. So, naturally, I have taken ownership of an EV, now that they are affordable and practical forms of transport. Writing is also one of my great pleasures, so writing about EVs and environmental issues, is a natural evolution for me. You can find my work on EV Obsession, and CleanTechnica, and you can also follow me on twitter.

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