If you have ever lost your OEM FOB you know what a hassle it typically is to get a replacement from the dealer and to get it programmed properly, let alone the steep cost you incur.
While there have been non-OEM FOBs available for years, most don’t end up working or require you to still go to the dealer to get it properly programmed, again at a significant cost.
Enter Car Keys Express. Their byline elegantly sums it up: Replacing car keys is simple and affordable again.™ Founded in 2006 by CEO Mark Lanwehr, no not in his garage 😊 but on the dining room table of his one room apartment. By 2006 it was the first online retailer of automotive keys and keyless entry remotes. Two years later Mark started offering his services to dealerships and fleet owners and now serves over 3,000 cities in the US and Canada. Along the way they added self-serve kiosks and remote optical scanners for dealerships. They are now the largest key/key FOB replacement company around.
In their booth at AAPEX 2021 they had samples of their products including their ROKS or retail optical key scanner, their Keys Now, their Simple Key, the Universal EZ Installer™ and the EZ Installer™. The ROKS is stand alone unit that you insert your existing key for scanning. Then they send you the key completely cut. Their FOB to use with the key can then be paired up with your car using their Universal EZ Installer and a free phone app. The process saves you about 70% of the cost as compared to going to the OEM dealer.
Simple Key (a kit premade for each specific OEM) comes with the EZ Installer. Costs vary depending on the OEM and vehicle, but ranges from US$99 to $149 versus if you went through the dealer where you would pay in the range of US$300 to $500 or more.
The difference between the Universal EZ Installer™ and the EZ Installer™ is that EZ Installers are designed to only work with one OEM, such as Ford, GM, Mazda, etc., while the Universal will work with about 95% of OEMs (and since this is a brand-new product, they are working refine its software to work across all OEMs). Once purchased the Universal EZ Installer or the EZ Installer and connected to the owner’s vehicle via the OBD2 port, the imbedded software becomes linked to the VIN. This means the owner can make multiple duplicates but only for that specific VIN. It can not be used after that on another vehicle.
Options for the end user currently include purchasing a kit from them online, locating and driving to one of their Car Keys Express locations in your city, having their mobile service scheduled to come to you, and a priority option of having them come within 24 hours. The respective pricing ranges from about US$99 if you drive to them $169 for a scheduled come to you and $315 for 24 hours service. All well below the hassle and cost of getting it done through your OEM Service Dealership.
In my discussion with Kirk Stewart, Retail Marketing Director of Car Keys Express, he told me that it takes about 18 months on average for them to reverse engineer an OEM FOB, and develop their own proprietary software and chip design, extensively test it out before selling them. They design their units to exceed the OEM in terms of quality, latest electronics, and durability. The finished product is waterproof to 30 feet (OEMs are not) and have better battery life as well as range of operation.
They currently have their circuit boards made in China to their proprietary design, but are looking to bring that phase of the process to the United States. Car Keys Express design, engineer, load their own software on the boards, and package all of the units in the United States (Louisville, Ky). They guarantee their products for 3 years (parts and labor) versus the OEMs’ ninety days to one year.
A part of this review, the Blackvue DR900S-2CH was compared to my long term benchmark dashcam, the Papago GoSafe 30G. Additionally, I will focus (pun intended 😊 ) on the performance of the Blackvue DR900S-2CH.
Here is a brief comparison of the respective unit’s specifications (from the manufacturer’s web sites):
“The Papago GoSafe 30G comes equipped with GPS, and, supports up to 128GB for more than 20 hours of recording before footage loops over. With a 2.7” display screen to view your videos, this dash cam has the capability to record full HD 1080P 60FPS high resolution videos with an 140° wide view angle. The GoSafe 30G also comes loaded with 3 recording modes (video, parking, and monitor mode), and Papago’s exclusive driver assist features including stop sign recognition, headlight reminder, and driver fatigue alarm.”
The DR900S-2CH has an ultra-wide 162-degree front camera and wide 139-degree rear camera angle. The front 8-megapixel sensor produces spectacular 4K Ultra HD footage, letting you read license plates from farther away. With H.265/HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), the video files stay small so you can record for as long as a standard Full HD dashcam. DR900S-2CH also features dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi for super fast file transfer to your phone.
There are some basic differences you can see from the two manufacturers descriptions:
The Papago has a display screen, while the Blackvue does not. However, you can easily access the images from the Blackvue using your smart phone. Both, of course, have removable MicroSD cards for viewing on your computer or laptop.
The Blackvue includes a second recording camera, for capturing rear traffic images.
The Blackvue front camera has a wider lens capture at 162 degrees as compared to Papago’s 140 degrees.
Field Side-by-Side Comparison
For most dashcam users, the primary purpose is to document traffic as you are driving. Dashcams have become popular as a means of providing evidence in the event of road rage and/or an accident. Ideally the dashcam will capture clear, time and gps marked images, both during daytime and nighttime driving.
Let’s see how the Blackvue and Papago did. In general, both dashcams did fine during the daytime recordings. Both document the time, speed and gps. You can see at the bottom of each of the following images, the time, speed, and in Papago’s case, the GPS coordinates. Blackvue also captures GPS coordinates, but rather than display them on the image, they are imbedded in the image data and actually show where the vehicle is on Google Maps, when viewed with their app.
For all the following images, they are not retouched or corrected, but appear exactly as recorded. In each case the Blackvue image is the first of the two images.
This first set shows the wider coverage of the Blackvue vs the Papago:
The Papago has a slightly more saturated image but is also a slight bit less sharp.
Here are the same images, enlarged about 30%:
Here is are comparative shots from video on the highway:
Again, the Papago has more color saturation while the Blackvue is a bit sharper. This is more easily seen in the approximately 30 percent enlargements:
Now let’s look at night shots:
Here the Blackvue does a bit better job with low (nighttime) lighting: the image is sharper and for example, you can see the traffic signals are red, but only appear as lights in the Papago.
And another set of night shots:
Finally, here is a shot that shows the advantage of Blackvue’s slightly wider lens coverage. You can see in the Blackvue image a car just off the left fender, but you can not see it in the Papago shot. This additional coverage could be useful for example, if your vehicle was sideswiped.
Here is an example of the video capture from the Blackvue front and back cameras:
You’ll note that the images are rock solid from both front and back cameras.
This is what the Blackvue SD Card Viewer looks like on a PC. It contains a lot of information, including the time, GPS coordinates, actual location on Google Maps, speed, and if selected, using picture-in-a-picture, simultaneous front and back videos. It allows you to capture and save a snapshot from the video at any time.
And here is the Viewer optioned as just the full image, without the surround of information:
As noted at the start, both the Blackvue and the Papago provide solid documentation of what is occurring in front of the vehicle. It was nice to see that the software of both manufacturers captured the same GPS coordinates and indicate the same vehicle speed across various settings and at low through highway speeds.
When considering all factors, the Blackvue DR900S-2CH emerges as the best, if you put cost aside. While both Blackvue and Papago do a number of the same things, including most importantly, automated recording every time you start driving, Blackvue has the edge in image quality. It offers excellent front and back cameras, high quality video including HD recording, and ease of use with its free smart phone app and PC viewer.
That said, for some the price difference will be a deciding factor. The Blackvue currently can be found selling at around US$420, while the Papago is at around US$160.
A few minor Blackvue nitpicks:
Blackvue prefers (recommends) that you only use their own branded microSD card. During parts of the half year I have been using this unit, instead of the Blackvue microSD card, I used a very well respected 128 gb professional level card, designed specifically for handling the frequent record events typical of security cameras. I did not experience any recording problems, however, the Blackvue unit would randomly announce a restart. The non-Blackvue card was formatted using Blackvue’s own software app. This minor issue is known by Blackvue, as well as being documented by a number of users.
Blackvue does have a Parking setting, for use when your vehicle is not running. However, it requires a source of power to keep running beyond its stored capacitor. One option is to directly power the unit off your vehicle’s battery using a circuit that is continuously ‘live.’ This is problematic over an extended period because it could cause your battery to be drained to the point where it will not start your vehicle.
Another option is Blackvue’s Power Magic Pro. It goes between a continuously live circuit and the unit, and is designed to shut off the Blackvue at a preset voltage level of your vehicle battery, for example, 12.5 volts. However it does not work with the sophisticated and sensitive power draw software of the BMW (as well as possibly similar systems by other OEMs, designed to preserve the battery and ensure sufficient starting power), nullifying its use as a means to power the unit in “Parking Mode.” Basically, it causes the system to throw several electrical related codes.
A third option is to purchase Blackvue’s Power Magic Battery Pack or Power Magic Ultra Battery. The first is a rechargeable accessory plug driven system that provides about 12 hours of record time. The Ultra unit is a high capacity rechargeable unit that provides about 24 hours of record time, and can be piggy-backed to increase the total record time while parked. However, these are not ideal options for long term parking situations (like when you leave your vehicle parked for a week or more). The accessory plug unit has too brief a recording time to be of value, while the Ultra is a very expensive option- over US$300 per pack.
In conclusion, after six months of use, the Blackvue DR900S-2CH has proven to be a highly reliable unit, providing excellent video documentation. It has been unaffected by the extreme temperatures here in the desert. The smart phone app and PC microSD card Viewer are very well thought through, highly functional and easy to use. It just needs a better parking record option.
Day one of the 2019 Automobility LA show might be best summed
up in one word “Karma.” The first media
day is basically a series of thirty minutes (or more) technology update
panels. I find it interesting on a
number of levels, including what really is new and what is status of the field.
For the most part, especially if you have attended a number
of these over the years, you take what is said with a grain of salt and
consider it a lot of marketing hype designed to stimulate discussion, create
awareness, and in more cases than not, investor interest.
My ‘take-aways’ from today include:
new CEO of Faraday (he was the CEO of Byton last year) sees the real financial profitability
coming from the interconnected digital experience, rather than through the sales
of their FF91 (September 2021) at $150-200k, or of their FF81 after that at
“living space” experience of future semi-autonomous and ultimately, fully autonomous
(levels 4 and 5) vehicles is the ‘hot’ topic focus of many presenters here.
is figuring out how to integrate all of the vehicle voice assistants, such as
OEM versions and Alexa, along with the artificial intelligence (AI) dynamic
data base so that it is a seamless experience for the end user.
out how to gain the trust in the general public of autonomous vehicles (AVs)
One split in thinking and focus that I feel isn’t being given
enough effort is that there really are two very different AV ‘roads’ that need
to be integrated for this future disruption to succeed. That is, one faction sees AVs as ultimately
the replacement for the personal car as simple a means to primarily get from A
to B, while the other is attempting to create a whole new means of experience
that people will just want to do because of the experience. The later are focused on integrating lots of
monitors (screens), high end audio, augmented reality, etc. An overriding issue for both factions is what
the respective impact will be on reducing congestion in urban environments.
Continuing issues include lack of standardized intra and
inter vehicle communication (software), privacy of the ever-expanding data base
on each end user (incrementally increasing under the 5G capabilities), and lack
of interstate DMV regulation for AVs.
It still appears that the near future of AVs will be restricted
to proprietary lanes on highways and in urban environments, where human driven
vehicles are not allowed to drive. Under
this set-up, I believe we will see a significant reduction in accidents and
Oh, and why this first day is best summed up as Karma? The
simple answer is that Karma had their FF91 there, as well as functioning
protypes of their future vision cars the SC1 and SC2 (convertible and hardtop respectively,
each with ‘scissor’ doors), and their Revero GTS model. Alternatively, as a bit of tongue-in-cheek,
perhaps the future of AVs is just karma personified…
More to come. In the interim, what are your thoughts?
[Hold on there fellow gearheads, there may be some validity in this statement 😃 ]
By Jeff Daum, Ph.D., PPA Photojournalist, Technology & Product Analyst
Interview with Justin Rees (JR), Founder & CEO Ride Systems, Kelly Rees (KR), President Ride Systems, and Ilya Rekhter (IR), CEO DoubleMap.
Ride Systems and DoubleMap had just merged at the time of this interview,
bringing together two companies with a proven track record of providing safe,
fact-based real-time information on transportation alternatives for getting
from point A to point B. This includes
public transit and on-demand (Uber, Lyft etc.) transit. The combined data bases comprise public
transit riders, corporations (employee vans), airports, universities and
hotels. While now operating under one
holding company, both will maintain their respective brick and mortar
headquarters. Both companies have a free
app (Ride Systems and DoubleMap GPS) allowing the user to see alternatives
available to get from A to B either entirely on one service or in combination,
along with real-time indication of when the option will be at a specific
JDLet’s start with a statement by you Justin: “Our services offer a quantum leap forward enabling everybody to say good-bye to privately owned cars soon.” Would you please put that in perspective?
JR Timing is everything, millennials are delaying the purchases of
large items, cars and houses for example.
They also want to live in big urban areas. So, they are already forgoing owning multiple
cars or even any car, for more liberating options. The other side of that is that you are seeing
even the automakers get into the services business. They want to be mobility companies. As you saw at CES, big companies are
investing heavily in autonomous cars, sensors, and smart cities. Those
companies are trying to shift from being a commodity producing company into service
and mobility sector.
So, you are seeing transportation
sharing options greatly increasing and providing short, medium and long-range
alternatives, from scooters to ride share, to on demand to public transit.
IR To piggy back on what Justin is saying, it starts with that
family that has one car and thinking about buying a second car, the easier we
can make it for them to ride public transit and not need to buy the second car,
the more it will continue trending that way.
Then you take it and make it more personalized with more options
including public transit, and combine in one place, and easy to use app, those
options to get from point A to point B and more and more people will use it.
JR So why do people hesitate to use the other modes of
transportation? It’s the lack of confidence in public transit, for example,
where is it? Will it ever get here? How
long do I have to wait? All those
questions prevent people from feeling comfortable in using public transit. You have to have confidence in it to want to
use it. Same thing is true for other
alternatives, such as scooters or bikes, on demand cars- you gain confidence if
you know where it is and how long you have to wait for it.
Having the information available
to them is where we come in. We own the
data in that middle market, we are in seven hundred plus locations. We provide real time information for public
transit and other modes of transportation.
Big cities, small cities, corporations, medical centers, universities. As a result, we have scooter companies, car
sharing companies and automotive companies come to us and say since you are
already in all of these places if we team up, instead of launching in just a
few select places, we can deploy on a large scale using your existing network
and contracts with the cities.
JD: Is your audience the same
for the public transit as it is for on demand rides?
IR For us it started with the transit riders, but now they can see
in the same app, a mesh network to get from point A to point B, an alternative
means to cover the distance from where they live to the bus, or from the bus to
their ultimate destination, or even not to take the bus at all but one of the
JDBut will the individual
who uses an Uber or Lyft, now decide because of your app, to use public
transit? What is the incentive?
IR Perhaps seeing there are clear options that can save money,
particularly if time isn’t critical. The
ride share companies are interested in being part of our app to get more
‘eyeballs’ to see their services. Also,
it depends on what a particular city has in terms of arrangements with
different ride share companies. If they
have agreements with for example, both Uber and Lyft, then both would be part
of our app for that city.
JDAre taxis favorable to
IR Using Dallas as an example, the city has brokered a deal with
Uber and Lyft, as well as the taxis.
That is a differentiation for our service, we don’t take a position pro
one service or another. The taxis in
Dallas have our software in their cars, so they can serve more as an on-demand
JR The option comes down to the confidence, do I take a scooter to
get to the bus, take an Uber to get to the bus, or walk to the bus. Do I even want to take a bus, is there
another option to get downtown? They
will find all those options through our app.
We have the platform where all those options can be made available. It is all about options, giving the people
options to choose from, the freedom to choose how they want to do it. Of course, with your own car, you can hop in
it and go where and when you want, but you have the cost of the car, getting
there, garaging or parking it, etc. If
you don’t have a car, the perception has been that you don’t have freedom. We provide that freedom.
Of course, it will take some
time, but people are already doing it- the millennial crowd is already doing
it. We think people are anxious to find
a better way to get around. Traffic is
as bad as it has ever been, parking and the cost of owning a car is going up,
as is the related stress. These
technologies of making people comfortable to use alternative modes of
transportation will help alleviate a lot of that stress.
JDYou had mentioned the OEMs
are interested in it. Of course, they
are focused on the shift in buying habits and have started offering their own alternatives. You have Volvo, Lincoln and Cadillac offering
new types of quick leases, no obligation, easy swap from one model to another
and totally inclusive monthly payments covering the car, the insurance, maintenance
and swap potential. For example, Volvo I
think is $500 per month to virtually any qualified individual where they offer
the option. Is this in competition to
IR That is actually music to our ears, we don’t own any of our
vehicles except for our pending start of our Tesla X car share service fleet. The reasons the OEMs are starting these new
types of leases is because they want their cars on the road. We have the
advantage of offering the use of any of those vehicles as well. It will be a natural complement.
JDBut if you own a fleet,
won’t you be seen as pushing your cars vs other options?
IR I don’t think it is a question of one or the other, it is a
question of providing as many options as possible.
KR Let’s back up a do a little bit of background on the
company. That might help paint a picture
why it won’t be a big deal. For example,
some of our biggest clients are big corporations, closed campuses, etc. They are the perfect place to start the car
share aspect of our business, a specific program for a specific client.
IR For example, where a client may have a fleet of several hundred
vehicles and thousands of employees, they can use our app to create on demand
vs scheduled rides.
JR Another example, for a client in a big city, we are able to merge all different types of transportation modes (short, medium and long range) and make them available to their employees in one app. Instead of the client having to go to each of the services and try and negotiate and integrate, we do that for them. Cities are hard to get into on large scale because of the bid process and because cities have little incentive to share information with the specific companies in their area. Because of this we are already involved with a lot of these cities, we offer our clients and strategic partners that connection. That ranges from tracking buses and shuttles for commuters to launching new offerings to the communities members in the area like scooters and car share programs.
JDLet’s segue into details
on your app.
KR It is more than an app, it also includes hardware.
JR I look at it as three pillars- the first one is what we are
known for, our mobile application. It is
free. The second pillar is in the
vehicle. In buses, most are a step back
in time, with clickers for counting passengers, manually changing the route
sign, etc. We install hardware inside the bus that takes over all these
functions and frees up the driver to focus on safety and driving. The third pillar is that the hardware we
install integrates these functions on the bus and sends real time updates to
our servers where we do business intelligence. That is then reflected for
example, in our app, showing current position, time to next stop, etc., as well
as real time passenger load, a more efficient routing and use of buses.
IR It is really the analysis and use of that data for both the bus
(or car company) and user that is key.
For example, a user can look at passenger load and decide to take a
different bus, or if the next bus has a bike rack installed, or can pick up a
person in a wheelchair. While on the
bus, they can use the app to order a car to pick them up when they arrive.
We also have numerous
capabilities we can build into the onboard equipment, such as badge readers,
WiFi capabilities, etc.
JD Where are the buses that
you have this technology currently running?
JR For example, Reno, University of Nevada, here in Las Vegas, Arrow Stage Lines, a charter bus service, Houston, Tulsa, really in all 50 states., Guam, Mexico and Australia. We haven’t done a lot of press so it isn’t well known, but we are the single largest provider of this type of technology across the world. Our service sounds like an app, but it is like the tip of an iceberg in terms of the full range of services we provide.
JDWould you talk a bit about
your new roles now as a merged organization of your two companies?
JR Merging makes a lot of sense from a business perspective. We have been fairly selfless in figuring out
what will be best for our employees in both companies, our clients, and how to
not disrupt everything. I will be the
CEO, Ilya has the same abilities but he also is one of the best guys when it
comes to strategies, and numbers and sales and will be President, so that will
be his focus, Peter (SerVass) is always about 10 steps ahead of us in looking
into the future, he worked very hard on this merger, and will be the
strategist. Kelly, her focus will be in
marketing and press.
IR We are fortunate in that both companies have very capable and
strong individuals. Culture has been very important to us. We have both been self-funded and
profitable. This year we are projecting
to be an 18 to 19 million dollars revenue company. Basically, blending what DoubleMap and Ride
Systems has done really well and making one big win.
JDDo you think you will stay
JR We are doing great the way that we are, but if the right
opportunity comes along, we won’t turn it down, but we are confident in our
ability to do this. This merger enables
us to take a risk and really grow the businesses to the next level.
IR The key is that both companies came in with clean balance sheets
and profitable. We have the funding to
JR So we are open to the option, we don’t want to restrict our
growth if the issue is capital.
JDIn summary, what would you
like to emphasize?
JR Well, we are the largest real time transit information company
in the world, no one has as many and as much variety of clients in as many
locations as we do.
IR To our existing clients, it is important to know, there is no
turnover. We are taking the best from
both companies and combining it.
JDYou handle a lot of data
obviously, what type of security and back up do you have?
JR That’s a really great question. A big and important topic for
people. We have secure data centers, AWS
with Amazon Web Services, IBM secure data centers, all sorts of redundancy and
backups. We take security around
personal information very seriously.
JDAnything else you would
like to add?
JR We are just thrilled to make this merger finally happen and
excited for what it means for the people of our two companies, and for our
clients and future clients. The sky is
IR We are both proverbial garage startups. To grow it to this, we couldn’t be
happier. We are going to keep the two
(apps) brands independent, but integrate across them as appropriate.
KR Looping back to where you opened this, needing to own a car
versus wanting to own a car are two different things. The automotive enthusiast, the hobbyist, the
love of driving is different from having to commute from A to B. As the information (transit options) is out
there, we believe more and more people will be giving up their cars.
has been fascinating learning the details, and meeting all of you. Thank you
for taking the time and sharing your enthusiasm. Continued success!
The sine qua non for the CAV (connected autonomous vehicle) is communications. It is at the same time its strength and, borrowing from Greek mythology, its Achille’s heal. To function, autonomous vehicles must rely on a tremendous amount of inter and intra connectivity. All of the on-board sensors (lidar, radar and cameras, engine parameters, lane departure, etc.) have to flawlessly communicate with one another, as well as vehicle to vehicle, and communicate with traffic management (lights, flow, emergency vehicles, etc.).
Sounds great in theory, but in actuality this is astoundingly difficult to pull off. Keep in mind, this connectivity has to function flawlessly all of the time. There was a bit of irony at CES 2017 in that every presentation I attended experienced a problem at least once with the remote presentation control unit communicating correctly with the media controller equipment. And this was connectivity at its very basic level! On a more complex level, there was Faraday’s problem during the press review where their car failed to accept the command to self-park.
Obviously, you can’t have a break in connectivity or the autonomous vehicle will come to a complete (unintended) halt (hopefully), and in doing so will become a potential accident instigator for both other autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles. What level of redundancy will be sufficient to prevent a loss of connectivity? While it seems feasible that intra- vehicle (between its numerous components necessary to have an autonomous system) redundancy is reasonably surmountable, what will be necessary to ensure the inter-vehicle, and traffic management, along with live web connectivity, is flawless?
Simultaneously with ensuring the continuous flow of connectivity, there are still two large problems to solve: All communication has to be hack proof (we have seen the videos of someone remotely gaining access to a vehicle’s electronics via one of the communication channels, and taking over one or more of the vehicles systems- acceleration, braking, steering. Hackers have demonstrated this remotely on cars ranging from Jeeps to Teslas.). Further a great deal, if not all, of the information has to maintain the privacy of the vehicle (and its occupants).
Additionally, complicating the connectivity issue is what was tagged “Babel” at the CES 2017 A United Language for the Connected Car session. The general definition of babel is a confused noise, typically made by a number of voices. Unfortunately, it applies to the current status of proprietary software designed for many of the components needed for a connected vehicle. The herculean challenge is to get a universal open language used across all components/systems for autonomous vehicles. Beyond the current Babel-of-software-language is the growing quagmire of state and federal regulations aimed at controlling autonomous vehicle access to our roads. Currently, an autonomous vehicle approved by nascent laws in one state, may not be able to continue driving when it crosses into an adjacent state. For example, while an autonomous car can be driven in Nevada, it can’t legally continue into nearby Oregon or Idaho, and if you are in an autonomous car in Florida, you could not continue on into any of its adjoining states.
The RAND Corporation pointed out in their 2016 publication Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers, that rather than autonomous vehicles reducing congestion on our roads, they may, in fact, increase congestion. This conclusion is based on the reduced transportation costs borne by individuals. For example, the cost of automotive insurance shifts from the owner to that of the manufacturer of autonomous vehicles. This, combined with increased access (potentially no need for individual driver licenses), could see a substantial surge in the number of individuals travelling at the same time. Of course, it could be moderated by increased reliance on mass vs low occupancy vehicles. The elimination of the hassle often associated with finding a parking space (your autonomous vehicle could drop you off and then continue on to a remote parking area, awaiting your request for it to comeback and pick you up) may also contribute to a significant increase in willingness to ‘hop’ into your vehicle and head to a dense, high-use, urban area.
What are the implications for the potential loss of transportation sector jobs, their respective incomes and loss of tax revenues from reduced or eliminated parking garages, meters, etc.?
And while most believe that autonomous vehicles (or even semi-autonomous) will significantly reduce the number of deaths caused by crashes, the is one part of our society that has depended on these deaths- that of organ donations. “It’s morbid, but the truth is that due to limitations on who can contribute transplants, among the most reliable sources for healthy organs and tissues are the more than 35,000 people killed each year on American roads (a number that, after years of falling mortality rates, has recently been trending upward). Currently, 1 in 5 organ donations comes from the victim of a vehicular accident.” [From Future Tense: The Citizen’s Guide To The Future. Dec. 30 2016] The potential impact is catastrophic on an already stretched organ donation system. “All of this has led to a widening gap between the number of patients on the organ wait list and the number of people who actually receive transplants. More than 123,000 people in the U.S. are currently in need of an organ, and 18 people die each day waiting, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. Though the wait list has grown each year for the past two decades, the number of transplants per year has held steady in the last decade, at around 28,000.”[ Fortune: If driverless cars save lives, where will we get organs? By Erin Griffith Aug 15, 2014].
You may be familiar with the paradox of Buridan’s ass. As the story goes, a hungry donkey was placed equidistant between two identical bales of hay. Unable to choose which one to go to, the donkey died of starvation. The movement towards autonomous vehicles has at least two analogous conundrums: how many deaths by autonomous vehicles is an acceptable number of deaths, and, who is going to have the final approval of the algorithms designed to make a decision for an autonomous vehicle as to who should be sacrificed when a choice has to be made between certain death in a pending accident. The analogy is that if we can’t reach agreement on both of these issues, the movement towards autonomous vehicles may come to a halt.
Even though these two conundrums are inextricably related, let me briefly explore each separately. We know factually that autonomous vehicles can lower deaths currently associated with driver error, and that the number won’t rapidly be reduced to zero. Using the approximately 32,000 automotive related deaths per year (cited in my Part 1), what percent reduction would be ‘acceptable’? Would a 50% reduction resulting in 16,000 fewer deaths per year, but also 16,000 remaining deaths per year by autonomous vehicles be OK? Would it take a 75% reduction resulting in 8,000 deaths per year by autonomous vehicles to be considered OK? The consensus appears to be that while the astounding number of 32,000 deaths per year caused by human error behind the wheel, isn’t good, we seem to have ‘accepted’ it without demanding immediate action on a national or global level. However, few believe we would be as complacent if the news was filled with 16,000 or even 8,000 deaths per year as a result of autonomous vehicles.
Recently a number of articles have appeared highlighting the other conundrum: algorithms being designed to decide who lives and who dies when the outcome of a pending accident is unavoidable. For example: “A self-driving car carrying a family of four on a rural two-lane highway spots a bouncing ball ahead. As the vehicle approaches a child runs out to retrieve the ball. Should the car risk its passengers’ lives by swerving to the side—where the edge of the road meets a steep cliff? Or should the car continue on its path, ensuring its passengers’ safety at the child’s expense?” [Driverless Cars Will Face Moral Dilemmas by Larry Greenemeier, June 23, 2016, Scientific American] Or:” Imagine you’re behind the wheel when your brakes fail. As you speed toward a crowded crosswalk, you’re confronted with an impossible choice: veer right and mow down a large group of elderly people or veer left into a woman pushing a stroller.” [Driverless cars create moral dilemma. By Matt O’Brien, The Associated Press January18, 2017]. Who should be entrusted with developing and ultimately approving the necessary algorithms? Shall there be one algorithm for all autonomous vehicles globally or will there have to be country/culturally specific versions?
Real World Impediments To Fully Autonomous Vehicles:
At this point, autonomous vehicle developers have not been able to handle several frequent occurrences typical to our driving environments. If a fully autonomous car comes upon road construction, it doesn’t know how to ignore the programming that tells it not to cross a double yellow line, or purposely drive into a temporary lane without lane markers. It is basically programmed to shut down- or, in Nissan’s case, phone ‘home.’ At CES 2017, Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Nissan, during his keynote speech said they are planning on having a centralized station staffed 24/7, to handle “edge” circumstances for their autonomous cars. In logic, the human contacted by the autonomous car would review the information available from the on-board sensors, and map an alternative route or action. It is unclear how would this approach be able to scale up instantaneously, for example, when a large section of a country has an extreme disrupter such as flooding, earthquake, etc.?
Similarly, autonomous vehicles cannot negotiate a dirt road, or a road that lacks up-to-date gps mapping. Neal Boudette in his article “5 Things That Give Self-Driving Cars Headaches” points out, autonomous cars will have a very hard time with unpredictable reckless drivers on the same road in a non-connected vehicle [New York Times, June 4, 2016].
Current thinking of many developers, is to require a (human) driver to serve as ‘back-up’ in those circumstances where the autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle encounters a situation it isn’t programmed to handle. Unfortunately, there are severe limitations to how well most drivers would be able cope with such an unexpected/instantaneous hand-off (one doesn’t have to look any further than the tremendous increase in accidents attributable to drivers distracted by texting). The biggest problem is with a lack of sufficient reaction time even at moderate speeds, let alone highway speeds. This is further complicated by the well documented fact of vigilance decrement. The longer the autonomous vehicle is properly handling the driving, the less attentiveness and readiness the ‘back-up’ human will have to properly respond to the hand-off.
In order to succeed, there is going to have to be a significant educational effort of the current, and potential, driving public during the transition period when autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles share the road with traditional non-connected vehicles. Part of this education will need to focus on the trust issue confounded by demographic and age differences in acceptance.
In some ways, many of the concerns today are parallel to those around one of the earliest autonomous vehicles designed to transport people- the elevator. Original elevators were relatively dangerous vertical transport platforms, operated by a trained elevator operator. As safety concerns were addressed, elevators vastly improved including having doors, fixed stopping points, redundant mechanisms to prevent free fall, etc. Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century push buttons were introduced that would permit selecting a specific floor and the elevator to proceed automatically to that floor. However, it wasn’t until after World War II -forty years after automation- that elevator operators were no longer placed in most elevators. One of the main reasons for the slow transition from manually operated to fully automated elevators was people were fearful of getting into an elevator that did not have a human operator. How likely are you to entrust your life to the newest mode of autonomous vehicles?
Autonomous Vehicles Part 3 will explore: What is next? Is the light at the end of the tunnel daylight or an oncoming train?