The automated vehicle coming down, hard

Flying high
Hard drug users know this, after the euphoric or energizing effects of their favourite substances have ceased to appear, a difficult period begins when the bare reality recovers its rights: coming down, hard.
 
For the myth of the driverless vehicle that many in the automotive industry have been shooting up with in recent years, the coming down from the fix began in 2019 and the story telling of the five-levels road map, which only raised problems of tempo, is in a bad way.
The take-off no longer seems so inevitable. Fundraising will prove more difficult and the terror that the supporters of the autonomous revolution used to exert on central or local authorities may well calm down: the fields of experimentation and subsidies will be more difficult to find.
 
In the business world, it was Carlos Tavares who came to Geneva to join the sceptics' camp, considering that going beyond level 3 for individuals was out of reach. It will be recalled that Gill Pratt, head of research at Toyota, had already indicated two years earlier that level 5 was hardly conceivable before 2050 and that John Krafcik, head of Waymo - Alphabet's subsidiary dedicated to the autonomous vehicle - had, in an interview given to Forbes at the end of 2018, considered that level 5 autonomous vehicles might never see the light of day: "This is probably a myth" he had said on this subject.
 
In the political world, we had already pointed out in January 2018 that Anne-Marie Idrac, who is leading France's national strategy on the AV, had distanced herself from mythology and proposed to use the plural to distinguish the different cases of use, and stop thinking that we were inevitably seeing the arrival of vehicles of all kinds with no drivers.
In the report she submitted in March to France's home secretary Gérard Collomb, she drew up in this reasonable perspective a "strategic framework that will form the basis of the State's action to favour the development of autonomous vehicles" which, it added, "must be at the service of the mobility of our fellow citizens and territories, and must be based on all the actors involved in this transformation".
She thus indicated that there was no question of entering into an irrational race to welcome and support all the possible developments of these technologies proposed by private operators, be they manufacturers or "GAFAM".

This trend of getting some distance and considering the social and political control over the development of these technologies is now widely relayed by the academic world, as evidenced by the InOut event held in Rennes last week.
Among others, Patricia Mokhtarian, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, examined the possible consequences of turning drivers into passengers: with the AV, they could see their journey times become useful. Logically, if this were to be the case, the result would be an increase in travel and longer distances that would reinforce rather than solve congestion and pollution problems. From a slightly different perspective, Adam Millard-Ball, Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, a specialist in environmental economics and policy, conducted a study establishing that it was financially more interesting for autonomous vehicles never to park with the result that they cause monster traffic jams in the city.
 
Thus, beyond the major technological problems that remain to be solved, it is the idea that the AV is desirable, particularly from an ecological point of view, that is seriously faltering. Thus, for Bertrand-Olivier Ducreux, of the transport and mobility department of the Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (Ademe), "in environmental terms, the autonomous car is a priori catastrophic, since it will facilitate the use of the car".
He adds: "Ademe's position is to try to direct autonomous vehicles towards virtuous mobility, by ensuring that they are used as a car-sharing service. The ideal for us is a six-, eight-seater, driverless shuttle."
 
The problem is, to benefit from the advantages of becoming a "passenger", users will tend to prefer being alone, in a private space where they can make calls or eat: Uber users prefer, as soon as they can afford it, a Uber X to a Uber Pool.
All these questions are addressed in several recent publications in French. Already, in January 2018, Laurent Castaignède in his book Airvore or the dark side of transport, whose purpose is much more ambitious, set out in five pages the main arguments and stressed that the autonomous vehicle would break the last barriers to the continuation of urban sprawl.
 
Similarly, in April 2018, Jean Haëntjens in Comment les géants du numérique veulent gouverner nos villes (How the digital giants want to govern our cities) placed the question of the autonomous vehicle back into the more general question of the data economy and the "project" that GAFAMs have for our cities. He argued strongly for a rebirth of the political city against the "smart city" and defended that the control of the soil and its uses and their planning should remain the responsibility of the politician.
 
In June, in a similar approach, IDDRI published a study coordinated by Mathieu Saujot. Entitled "Let's put autonomous mobility on the path to sustainable development", the study examines three scenarios for the development of the VA: individual autonomous mobility, collective autonomous mobility and autonomous mobility on demand.
By examining them in the light of a series of "desirability" criteria, it shows that only the second scenario "ticks the boxes" of sustainable development and pleads for political control capable of making it happen and countering the emergence of the two alternatives that are much more problematic in many respects.
 
Finally, in March 2019, Jean-Pierre Orfeuil (researcher specialising in urban mobility) and Yann Leriche (head of Transdev's North American autonomous vehicle business) published a book significantly entitled Piloter le véhicule autonome au service de la ville (Piloting the autonomous vehicle at the service of the city).
By delving into the history of transport and cities and emphasizing how much the evolution of urban forms is linked to the aforementioned history and the political decisions that have marked it, they converge with J. Haëntjens and IDDRI to advocate for a mastery of the development of these technologies and their uses by territories, their elected representatives and their citizens.
Following an approach similar to that of IDDRI, they propose a kind of analytical method called TRUST which lists the 5 key criteria against which solutions provided by the AV should be examined: technologies, rules, uses, systems and services, and local communities. They thus draw a form of collective management of this "coming down" that we are experiencing, which seems likely to organize a reasonable and desirable "ascent" of the VA.
 
If the supporters of the autonomous revolution want to prevent this revolution, like many others announced and never proven, from becoming a thing of the past tomorrow, they would probably be well advised to abandon their dreams of all power in order to accept the democratic and political supervision that all this work calls for.
 
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Translatedwithwww.DeepL.com/Translator, corrections by Géry Deffontaines 

La chronique de Bernard Jullien est aussi sur www.autoactu.com.

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