On an unseasonably warm August evening in downtown San Francisco, Women in Autonomy held its inaugural event, Driving the Future of Transportation - a lively panel discussion featuring Nauto COO Jennifer Haroon, Designated Driver CEO Manuela Papadopol, and DeepMap COO Wei Luo, as well as Stacey Randecker, co-host of "The Flying Car Show," as moderator.
The evening began with networking amongst the attendees, who were predominantly women in the automotive or autotech industries. They enjoyed appetizers and beverages as they got to meet and chat with fellow “women in autonomy”.
The panel began at 6:45pm with Women in Autonomy founder, Indu Vijayan, taking to the podium to welcome everyone, thank them for their support, and introduce the evening’s agenda.
Next up to the podium was moderator, Stacey Randecker, to kick off the discussion. She began by asking our panelists how they feel about where AV technology is today and where they think the technology and industry will be one year from now. Jennifer Haroon admitted that we have entered the “Trough of Disillusionment” around autonomy. Although progress is being made in areas like computer vision and deep learning, we certainly won’t achieve full autonomy a year from now. Wei noted that three years ago when DeepMap was founded, industry analysts were perhaps over optimistic when it came to predicting when we would eventually reach full autonomy. In a year from now, she believes that people will become more optimistic again about the progress that’s being made and where AVs are headed. Manuela thinks that a lot of education will happen in this next year and that we’ll see more R&D vehicles on the road, more cities embracing the different levels of autonomy, and an enhancement of the end user experience.
The conversation quickly turned to SAE’s Levels of Autonomy, and how some have called to scrap it all together. Manuela admits that how these levels are defined is not optimal, although the industry had to start somewhere and the background behind the levels makes sense. Wei says that Level 3 presents a difficult handoff between the driver and the vehicle and that this delicate relationship is even harder to achieve in some ways than full autonomy. Jennifer says that these levels were created before the technology was developed and are not consumer friendly. But that education is key. Even car dealers are having trouble learning and explaining how the technology works. Manuela adds that companies need to use the right language in marketing materials, press releases, and how they talk to the consumers. Stacey notes that we need a common and clear nomenclature when discussing these technologies. The consensus is: erase Level 3, make Levels 0-2 ADAS, and only mark Levels 4 and 5 as “autonomous.”
Stacey then asked “How do you view the impact of autonomy on personally owned vehicles? Will they exist or will there be fleets of robotaxis?” Wei thinks that when AVs become a reality, personal ownership of consumer cars will decrease. Looking at San Francisco and other major cities, specifically, younger people don’t really need to get a driver’s license because they have access to Lyft, Uber, and micromobility options, like scooters. Most of the time, our cars are sitting in garages and parking lots. Once full autonomy arrives, Wei notes, we should have policies in place that encourage shared ownership and fleet services.
Manuela feels a bit differently on this topic, saying that the young people who live in the cities are eventually going to grow up and find it useful to own a car. Manuela doesn’t think we should remove personal ownership of cars without having a set alternative. Jennifer believes that autonomy will have to begin with fleets operating in a fenced area (i.e. geo-fenced, speed-fenced, weather-fenced) but can not operate outside it. Jennifer also admits that it’s much harder to have autonomous fleets serve rural areas.
Another great point brought up during the discussion was regarding insurance companies. Insurance companies are worried about what autonomy means for their future. Once we reach full autonomy, what are they going to insure? Right now, it’s drivers. In the future, will it be product reliability? The autonomous system itself?
And what are the biggest barriers to full autonomy? Wei believes it’s technology, public acceptance, policy, and infrastructure, but the piece that is the hardest and has the biggest uncertainty is public policy. If governments around the world make the right decisions, they will have the biggest impact on the speed and safety of autonomy. The right public policy will help autonomy move forward. For Jennifer, the biggest obstacle is public acceptance and that the industry can help solve this challenge with better, more open information about the technology. Manuela agrees: public education leads to public acceptance and that we need to find ways to connect to the public and explain the benefits of AVs.
It was at this time that our panel took questions from our audience. The questions ranged from how autonomy and micromobility will merge, to policy around the different Levels of Autonomy (i.e. do we need to regulate the whole spectrum or break it into parts 0-2, then 3-5?), and the safety of vulnerable passengers (i.e. what needs to take place in order for parents to trust their children with automated driving?)
And finally, to wrap up the evening, we took a lovely group photo!
Thank you to everyone who came out to our very first Women in Autonomy event and making it such a huge success! Check back with us soon about information regarding our next event, Women in Autonomy: Rules of the Road!