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Self-driving vehicles will be on the road sooner than you think—and their presence could spark widespread and transformative changes. Two U of M researchers gave a glimpse of these changes in a session at Minnesota’s Transportation Conference in March, sponsored in part by CTS.

Companies from GM to Google are developing self-driving vehicle technology, said Adeel Lari, research fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Much of the current discussion focuses on the systems’ promise to eliminate driver error and avoid crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Other impacts, however, could increase travel. The elderly, people with disabilities, and children would gain mobility, Lari explained, and commuters who could sleep or work en route might choose to live further away from their jobs.

State and local coffers could see some impacts. More people might forgo car ownership and join a shared fleet service, reducing vehicle tax and license revenues, Lari said. Revenues from speeding and parking tickets would also drop.

Frank Douma, associate director of the Humphrey School’s State and Local Policy Program, then looked deeper into the legal and privacy implications of self-driving vehicles.

Current law is unclear, he said, but as vehicles assume more control, lawsuits are likely to shift from the driver to the manufacturer. Plaintiffs could also target vehicle owners for failing to maintain a vehicle adequately. As technology moves forward, Douma said, “the law needs to move with it.”

One way to help clarify liability is to use data from a vehicle’s black box, but this raises another issue: privacy. States offer varying levels of privacy protection, Douma said, and the courts have been wrestling with the issue. Protections could include setting limits on the data collected and how they can be used.

Read the full article in the May issue of Catalyst.

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In the not-too-distant future, your car will warn you if you’re getting drowsy, remember where potholes are on your route home, and apply the brakes at intersections. Advanced driver-assist systems combined with “big data” are moving us quickly to this day—offering the possibility to greatly reduce crashes or even make them a thing of the past.

At the CTS Fall Luncheon on December 3, Luca Delgrossi, director of driver assistance and chassis systems at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, offered his perspective of new developments in this innovative technology.

Delgrossi said the next generation of driving technology focuses on preventing crashes altogether with the use of richer sets of sensors covering a broader space around cars, as well as new actuators that can control the vehicle. Sophisticated in-car networks exchange data from one component to another, creating more powerful systems as well as system redundancy for reliability.

There are many other opportunities to help drivers who are distracted or facing a complex situation. One system, for example, would help drivers stay awake during long trips. It builds a profile from data collected in the first 20 minutes; during the rest of the trip, it checks to see if the driver is deviating from this pattern—and if so, gives an alert to take a break.

Delgrossi also touched on the potential for vehicles to share data with each other, such as warnings of icy roads ahead.

Ultimately, the goal of the upcoming technology is to avoid crashes by allowing cars to take more and more control.

“Hands-off driving is coming," Delgrossi said. “We need to bring technology to perfection to do this. That’s what the industry is working on. We will see progress in the next five to seven years.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.

New vehicles today are sophisticated driving machines--and they're also becoming rich sources of information. Sensors collect data about everything from how fast you're going to when the wipers kick in. At the same time, GPS navigation systems and the infrastructure built for mobile devices are making it increasingly possible to track where vehicles are and gather vast amounts of data. What does this mean for safety? Capturing the actual behavior of drivers could lead to a "behavioral map" revealing how drivers dynamically experience and adapt to road networks--and give engineers and designers insight for creating a safer driving experience. Read more in April Catalyst.

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E-mail: cts@umn.edu

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