On Dec 15 and 16, 2014 I attended the 2014 Florida Automated Vehicle Summit workshop located in Orlando. This was the second such workshop sponsored by the Florida DOT. Although there were several highlights I will touch on, the one that stole the show was the keynote address by State Senator Jeff Brandes (Chair of the Transportation Committee) who spoke on the Vision of Automated Vehicle Technologies in Florida. I am writing this entry in late January – and as my memory fades on some of the finer points of the conference, the burning vision that Mr. Brandes shared has not dimmed. It is rare that elected officials ‘get it’ in terms of the possibilities of automation in the transportation sector – yet he did. Mr. Brandes sponsored the bill that resulted in automated vehicle test regulations, and is also a member of a constituency that sees the future in robotics, and is preparing Florida to be a lead player in these emerging fields, not only in surface transportation, but also aerial and marine drones. Himself impacted by a vehicle crash that touched him personally, he harmonized with significant safety improvements that can be obtained, as well as the increased quality of life that automated surface transport would bring, particularly for a state with a high percentage of retirees that want to maintain their freedom of movement. Keep your eye on Florida – they get it.
The summit was not specifically on vehicle automation of highway, but cross-cutting more on the theme of automation in transport in general – though a majority was with respect to surface transportation. A retired officer from the military shared the path of aerial drones in the military when given the mandate for ‘pilotless’ aircraft in the 1990s. The pace of development was slow, but in the end their program was a success- however, not as originally envisioned. The military now has thousands of pilotless aircraft – but they are not necessarily replacing traditional piloted vehicles (though some are). The majority of the explosive growth was in the so called three D’ – that is tasks that are either Dull, Dirty, or Dangerous – basically task ill-suited for human pilots. As such the drone program has exploded, but in directions and mission not originally conceived. I cannot help but think that perhaps surface transportation may progress similarly – we may envision vehicles driving themselves, or as the basis for a bus fleet – however the realizations of full automation in our surface transport may take a form that surprises us all in the end.
The second day was reserved for demonstrations – and these were notable. VEEO (Induct Technologies – also known as Navia) demonstrated a driverless shuttle, similar to the systems demoed as part of the CityMobil program. Mobile Eye has a strong showing with an after market crash notification (and hopefully prevention) system based on real time video obstacle detection. At about $1000, I was seriously considering it, as a family member recently totaled a vehicle due to in-attention that such a device may have been able to prevent the incident. Mobile Eye also had a full size bus completely equipped with video detection so as to avoid pedestrians. Honda had perhaps some of the most convincing test drives. Similar to Mobile Eye, on board equipment monitored the surroundings in the event of eminent danger – but instead of warning the driver, the vehicle would directly apply the brakes to prevent rear-end collisions with obstacles. These were only a few of the demonstrations of the various products emerging for transportation. This all took place at the Disney race track. One of the most memorable rides was a test drive of the Tesla sports sedan – one of the fastest production cars in the world, and whisper quiet.
Well Florida has caught the vision – and is fertile for discussion. They are not locked into any particular realization – but are open to discuss the possibilities, and understand that in its final form, automation will bring significant benefit to their state.