Paving the Way to an Autonomous Future

Apollo 11 is a distant memory in the rear view mirror of life for those old enough to remember the glory days of America’s space program. It was a privilege then to meet someone who was involved with that historic program. Space, however, was not the final frontier for Dr. Alain Kornhauser, a Princeton Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, Director of the Transportation Program and Faculty Advisor to PAVE (Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering), as, in the decades since, he has been looking forward to how technology could help the transport challenges here on earth.

As a professor, entrepreneur (pioneer in turn-by-turn GPS navigation in the 90s) and smart car evangelist, he has been researching, creating and spreading the word about how technologies can create a safer and more efficient transport network. His newsletter and web site, Smart Driving Car, is one of the best for common sense and concise wisdom regarding the state of vehicle automation.

In the above interview, filmed at International CES 2015, Kornhauser discusses how decades of theory are rapidly turning to reality, as new features are making cars safer and setting the stage for full autonomy; as Kornhauser says, “At some point, they [cars] become so good, that they chauffeur us.”

With such a broad and long view of autonomy, Kornhauser believes we are close to providing enhanced mobility through the use of autonomous vehicles.

To the naysayers, he suggests that the,

“Technology will pay for itself through the insurance savings….It will essentially allow the consumer to have the technology for free, as long as they continue to pay the insurance premiums.”

He points out that the technology is following cost curves that are similar to consumer electronics and will follow trends similar to Moore’s Law; hence, one of the reasons CES has become such an important conference for automakers.

One of the things he alludes to is the idea that people are more interested in being entertained, rather than being behind the wheel all the time. He suggests autonomy will spawn mobility services, where everyone, regardless of income, will effectively have access to a robotic chauffeur (sort of a cross between public transit and a ride-sharing service). He points out that this sort of scenario eliminates the need for parking lots next to retail (e.g. the car might travel to a less, in-demand area or it would serve another consumer) and will have a huge impact on the “built environment“.

One study he and his students undertook, suggested that an automated ride-sharing service fleet would require only 1.5M vehicles to serve the 8.9M people in the Garden State, eliminating congestion and greatly reducing pollution. Of course, that is a study and the real-world could get in the way, but Kornhauser points out that society will see the benefits of automation technology in the near-term.

Stay tuned for more exclusive CES 2015 interviews on autonomous vehicles with executives from the insurance, technology and design worlds.

To see the ViodiTV summary of CES, check out this post brought to us by our friends at Calix.

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