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Is the future of self-driving vehicles...people?

We joined a terrific group of public and private transportation thinkers for a discussion on urban mobility during the inaugural Urban Mobility Forum last week. We explored a number of themes, but one common theme stood out: how essential people are to the future of autonomous vehicles.

Let’s start with a grim truth: despite the enormous innovation and investments that have transformed urban mobility in the past decade, our roads have become more dangerous in many respects. A strong economy encouraging more people to commute and ubiquitous smartphones have resulted in more distracted driving. And the combination of trends have contributed to a dramatic impact:

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With these challenges before us, the question looms larger than ever: when will autonomous vehicle technology deliver greater safety, efficiency and productivity? Assisted driving technologies like forward collision warning and forward auto-braking are already decreasing collisions. However, widespread adoption of these safety features takeat least thirty years. Full autonomy will also take years to become widespread as the technology is still in its early days, and is expected roll out first in geofenced areas and under good weather conditions. This makes the work that Nauto is doing important precisely because it’s having an impact now.

Nauto’s retrofit, visually-enhanced and AI-powered safety system is already delivering immediate payoffs to those who need them most: commercial fleet drivers who spend the most time behind the wheel. And while Nauto is enabling fleet managers to coach and improve driver behavior, reducing at-fault collisions, and exonerating drivers in wrongful liability cases, we’re also doing something less expected but perhaps even more important: building a knowledge base about how the best human drivers behave behind the wheel.

Here’s an example: in our analysis of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI)’s naturalistic driving study data, about 20% of drivers are top-notch; they’d never cause a crash. However, that same VTTI data shows that 15% of drivers cause 85% of crashes.

How do you want your autonomous vehicle to operate – like that 20% group of top-notch drivers, or based on an average? We agree and that’s exactly why Nauto is working with autonomous system developers and other partners to build and share knowledge (anonymized and aggregated) of how the best drivers operate.

So how do we work towards a safe, efficient and productive future in urban mobility? For Nauto’s part, we’re working on this today by enabling safer and smarter commercial fleets. At the same time, we’re accumulating knowledge -- mile by mile -- on the Nauto system of how the best human drivers perform today to enable a safer autonomous future.

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