The Future of Autonomous Vehicles Webinar; Panelists Express Optimism about the Future

The Future of Autonomous Vehicles Webinar; Panelists Express Optimism about the Future

On a recent webinar hosted by Axios on “The Future of Autonomous Vehicles,” professionals from the robotics and transportation industries discussed the opportunities for autonomous vehicles (AVs) to bridge societal gaps, the challenges of navigating federal and state AV policies, and their predictions for the future of the industry. Selika Talbott, a Professor in American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy and keynote speaker, highlighted the challenges presented by the current “patchwork” of AV laws across the country, likening it to a “tug of war” between localities and the federal government.


With no clear federal guidelines, Talbott stated, it is nearly impossible to know—from one state to the next—who is operating the AVs, their crash rates, and which laws they should be governed by. In addition, Talbott advocated for more transparency from the companies creating AVs, both towards the federal government and towards the communities they will be driving in. Responding to a question from the moderator about surveys showing that people are concerned about AVs, Talbott stated that “they have every right to be” and that AV companies need to take the opportunity now—before autonomous vehicles are in widespread use—to demonstrate how AVs can positively impact society.


Talbott also clearly identified the need for policymakers to be educated on both the challenges and benefits of AVs in order to create effective guidelines for their operation. She noted that the federal government’s hesitation seems to stem from a reluctance to interfere with innovation but commented that guidelines are absolutely necessary because the current situation is “like the Wild West.” The responsibility of educating policymakers does not lie solely with AV companies; all industries that will be impacted by autonomous technology should be invested in this, Talbott declared.


Karl Iagnemma, President and CEO of Motional—a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv to develop AVs—echoed Talbott’s concerns. Motional aims to make AVs safe and accessible to the general public. Particularly in COVID times, Iagnemma noted, access to diverse transportation is more important than ever. Although he expressed optimism about the changes taking place in AV federal regulation, he cited this as the biggest potential roadblock for widespread AV deployment and use.


All of the panelists conveyed confidence about the future of the industry. Talbott noted the potential for AVs to fill the transportation gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” particularly when combined with investment in lower-income communities. Iagnemma cited over 100,000 successful AV rides in Las Vegas over the last two years. Panelist Seleta Reynolds, General Manager of Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation, identified traffic and road safety as LA’s biggest challenge, with the hope that autonomous technology will result in more proactive protections for pedestrians.


One area where autonomous technology cannot compete with human employees? Bus drivers, said Reynolds. Drivers “do so much more than drive the bus.” They address medical emergencies, help mothers load and unload their strollers, and often give riders a break if they’re a nickel short on their fare. Reynolds said she did not know of any companies that are focused on this unique shortcoming of autonomous technology and expressed interest in seeing how AV companies would combat this.


You can access a recording of the full webinar.

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