(Transcript)

Cindy Speaker:   Good afternoon. My name is Cindy Speaker, and I’m talking today with Dave Miller of Michael J. O’Connor & Associates, and we’re going to talk about a topic that’s going to make you feel like you’re in the Jetsons. It’s autonomous cars. Dave, thanks for being here today.

Dave Miller:  Thanks for having me Cindy. Always a pleasure.

Cindy Speaker:   Well, listen. Why don’t we start off and why don’t you explain to us what a fully autonomous vehicle is?

Dave Miller:   Sure, and I’ll do my best here. I’m an attorney, not an engineer, but there’s some guidance out there, thankfully, the Society of Automotive Engineers have put out. They created a leveling system for autonomous vehicles, which goes from zero to five. Zero, one and two being more human driver interactive, as the vehicles that we’re used to driving these days. And then SAE levels three through five being more automated driver system type vehicles, with five being the fully automated vehicle.

There’s some differences, obviously. Level three are the types of vehicles that we’re starting to see where there are some driver assist mechanisms in play, or level four is a system where the vehicle could set out an intervene warning to the human operator, and then the human driver would step in and take over. And then five, it’s the highest levels, is where the vehicle would actually have its own back up and intervene for itself essentially, in the situation where something doesn’t go to where it’s supposed to.

Cindy Speaker:  That’s amazing.

Dave Miller:  I think that’s more of the Jetsons level. Level five. From everything I’ve read it looks like the three and the four are really where … I guess on the horizon of the vehicles coming out. It’s the type of vehicle we can expect. Then, obviously, the end goal is the level five.

Cindy Speaker:   Talk about that. The experiment. I believe there was an Uber experiment in Pittsburgh related to autonomous vehicles. Which level would that have been at?

Dave Miller:  My understanding of that experiment is also level four vehicles. Because the videos that I’ve seen they have an operator sitting in the driver’s seat. I think that’s just because they are in the testing phase where they didn’t want to send these vehicles out into the streets of Pittsburgh and not have a human being able to step in if need be. That experiment is still going on. They’ve had some hiccups. I think mainly more contractual agreement type hiccups, versus technology. Although I’m sure they’re ironing out their issues on technology as well, while still on the testing phase.

The City of Pittsburgh has basically offered up their city. They’ll be the maiden test truck. That’s what the terminology is, and then Carnegie Mellon University is partnering with Uber to do this technology. It’s exciting time obviously and it’s great to have … We have them in Pennsylvania but there’s lots of issues. I mentioned those contractual issues. It’s governmental issues. One is, the city is not happy that Uber didn’t develop the number of jobs they were expecting. Uber didn’t back up the city on a $50 million grant proposal to enhance the transportation systems, and these are the types of issues we’re talking about.

We’re not talking about vehicle failure issues or Uber vehicles being involved in too many rags or anything like that.

Cindy Speaker:  Let me just try and wrap my head around this. You’re talking about level three, four and five. But hearing some of the things we hear, and I’m wondering how this fit in. So what I’ve heard is that even in intersections and things like that, an autonomous vehicle is able to anticipate even unusual circumstances and compensate for that. Is that around level five?

Dave Miller:  That is essentially anything … Let me just take a look at my chat here. But it’s called monitoring of the driving environment. Is what you just explained that. Level three, four and five, the system, the vehicle itself does that. Zero through two, that’s the human driver that’s responsible for that. So yes. Ones you get to that higher level, three, four or five, the automated driving system is the vehicle itself that is sensing its surrounding and reacting.

Cindy Speaker:  Very interesting. What about in Pennsylvania, is there any specific legislation relative to this topic?

Dave Miller:  There is. There is a senate bill that’s made its way … It’s being introduced, it’s made its way to the transportation committee back in February, where as far as I can tell that’s where it stayed and there hasn’t been any action on it or any meaningful action on it. This is basically setting up a parameter for testing. This is not the final all-inclusive statute that we’ve seen in some other states. This is essentially saying we want to be the state where these companies would come in and we’re going to make it sort of some fair playing ground. Have some rules made out so they can step in and do their testing.

Which I think you’re looking … Obviously the Uber experiment is driving a lot in this. The primary sponsor, senator from Allegheny County that makes sense that he wants this experiment to expand throughout the state. I don’t think … The fact that they hasn’t been much movement on and I guess it’s a statement of where that Uber test is in Pittsburgh. If they are more advanced I think this bill will be moving a little quicker. But I do think that these two things will go hand in hand, ones Uber sends out the word that they’re ready to expand their experiment state-wide. I think this bill will move a little quicker.

It’s not talking about … It’s certain up some standards for … They site to these SAE standards and they set up different responsibilities based on the level of automation with the vehicle that they’re testing. They talk about basic stuff that these vehicles had to be registered according to the regular laws, things like that. Also, setting up a safety advisory council made up of many interested parties throughout the commonwealth, so that this isn’t something that we’re just handing over and say, run with it in the commonwealth. It’s going to be something that’s going to be looked at and talked about until it’s perfected. If that’s even possible.

Cindy Speaker:  Yeah. Well, I imagine it’s going to be tough to adoption of this. I don’t know if you saw this statement. Last week, or maybe two weeks ago, on one of the network morning shows, and it talked about that with autonomous vehicles, that eye movement is going to be a factor, and yet we see all these pictures of people driving in autonomous cars reading a book, and I thought, if this is going to be related to eye movement, what is the point. So there’s so much confusion about this topic.

Dave Miller: I think you’re right, and I think that that is going to be one of the big issues. Is when individuals are going in, when these vehicles are eventually ready for sale and on the market place, there’s a big difference between going in and buying a level two vehicle and a level five vehicles, and we’re putting that up to the dealerships and the purchase yard to understand exactly what this vehicle can do and how to switch from mode to mode. That’s going to create a lot of issues. It reminds me of that crazy story of that gentleman that bought the RV and put it in cruise control and went to the back to take a nap because he thought the car was going to drive itself. That’s a kind I think we’re gonna see happen because we’re relying on individuals in our community to understand this complex technology, and we’ve got some of the smartest engineers at Carnegie Mellon working around the stuff and trying to figure out.

Taking out the keys over to someone that has been used to driving a stick shift their whole life. It’s a big jump.

Cindy Speaker:   Yeah. It sure is.

Dave Miller:   It’s obviously a learning curve here for everyone. I think we’re far off from getting to those level five vehicles being on the road.

Cindy Speaker:  It seems like it.

Dave Miller:  I think we’re generations. My guess is I think we are a generation away from them.

Cindy Speaker:  Yeah. Let’s talk about the dangers and what are the things … I love the way Michael J. O’Connor & Associates stays on top of trends and issues like this. Which are very much related to what you do every day and that deals with injured or disabled people, often in car accidents. What are some of the dangers that are anticipated. Because I would think … One of the things that comes to mind, for me, is if I’m in an autonomous vehicle, which I don’t think is going to happen anytime soon, I don’t think I would be an early adopter, but suppose there is an accident because the car decided to steer itself another way, who’s liable. My insurance company, they manufacturer? Talk a little bit about dangers and topics like that?

Dave Miller:  These are all great questions, and I think they’re going to be unanswered for a while. That is everyone’s big concern, is system failure. System issues while these things are being operated, and if you’re essentially handing over complete control of the vehicle, which is a level five automated vehicle is supposed to be able to handle, think about, I can’t, sometimes at home, get my computer and my laptop to communicate with my printer all the time, and then we’re out there relying on this technology to keep us safe. Certainly I think the manufacturer will have some liability in this kind of circumstances.

If there was a human element to why that happened, certainly that liability is going to come into play. I think we’re going to see a change in our insurance policies. If you’re purchasing an automated vehicle, I think your insurance policy might become four to five times sticker to talk about all those types of issues and who’s liable for what. So, these are all things that are yet to be played out, and you have, obviously, design issues here with, you know, I was thinking, what if the switch to go from automated to manual is something that could be bumped by your elbow as you’re reaching for your coffee.

Then all of a sudden you’re in the passenger seat reading a book and oh boy, now what. These are all things that hopefully I’m sure they are being thought through. But until we have enough of these vehicles on the road and unfortunately I am with you. I will not be the guinea pig. I will certainly let this new technology be tested by others first.

Cindy Speaker: Yeah. That’s going to be the millennials.

Dave Miller:  That’s my guess. Yes.

Cindy Speaker:  Oh maybe another generation. Like you said, this could be a whole generation away. We really don’t know.

Dave Miller:  I think you’re right. I think millennials are happy with their Uber driver coming to get them and taking them from point to point. I think the next step may be getting into the Uber car without a driver. And that might be 30 years away.

Cindy Speaker:  Let me just ask you as far as future. So we’re talking about a level five being quite a distance. But at what point do you think maybe a level three would be available to the general public? Are there any projections on that?

Dave Miller:  What I saw is the 10 year outlook-

Cindy Speaker:   Is that right?

Dave Miller: Yeah. I think so. We have level twos essentially right now. These are the driver assist type vehicles that can come to a stop or get you back in your learn when you’re swerving on a highway. Those are driver assistant systems, not automated systems. When you combine those together, then you’re starting to lean into that level three. That’s really … The big difference between level two and level three is the monitoring of the driving environment. Level two require the driver to do that. Three and above is the vehicle’s responsibility.

Cindy Speaker:  I see.

Dave Miller:   That’s a big job. We’re not there yet.

Cindy Speaker: Right. I heard something interesting. In North Carolina, there’s apparently legislation, and what they anticipate and it may be a generation down the road, but their legislature has passed some kind of a bill. It says that drivers can be 12 years old or older. Can you imagine a 12 … You’re going to send your 12 year old out in an automated vehicle and they don’t even need a driver’s license. I guess this is how our great grandparents felt when they talked about some of the things that are our every day common to us today. But I just can’t even imagine sending my 12 year old out in a vehicle, by himself. It’s crazy.

Dave Miller:   That would be great if I can get my kids to football practice and swimming practice by sending them into my driverless vehicle but I don’t know if I’m ready to do that. But you’re right. In a generation, half or two generation maybe that’s common. That will be great if it is and it works and it’s safe. Outstanding, we just-

Cindy Speaker:  And it’s safe.

Dave Miller:  And the safety is the biggest thing. This technology to take our loved ones from point to point without us being there.

Cindy Speaker:  I think to those who are watching, one thing that we can say … This is a very interesting discussion, but I think that it’s exciting but there’s lots of cautions here to get too involved too early.

Dave Miller:  Absolutely. It’s with anything else. Any new tech job or any new machine that’s come out in the history of human beings there’s always that initial failures. There’s always things that can be improved upon, safety factors, you know, think about something that’s simple as a press in the factory. Guards weren’t part of this initially, now they are. Automatic shut off systems, those are types of things that maybe the third or fourth version of these automated cars will have than the initial ones might not, and that’s just because we can’t predict and you tried to do your best, and these engineers are certainly spending a lot of time and effort on it. It’s just one of those things that experience will tell the tail, I think.

Cindy Speaker:   Dave, really this was really good information. I appreciate it because it’s very enlightening to me. I didn’t realize all the different levels, because when I hear about autonomous cars, I didn’t … It was kind of scary, but this is a little less scary, because what you’re saying is start slow at level two, with the driver still involved.

Dave Miller:  Right. Since you’re still reading, my perspective is this stuff is already late out, so clearly this is the path that the automotive industry is heading. We wouldn’t have statutes in place already, we wouldn’t have SAE standards in place already if this was not the way the future was heading. Let’s be ready for it and understand what you’re purchasing when you’re at the dealership.

Cindy Speaker:  Yes, for sure. Dave, if anybody has questions relative to the downside of vehicles and car accidents and things like that, how can they reach your office for information or to get some help?

Dave Miller:  They can go to our website at www.OConnorLaw.com. Or call us at our 800 number, which is 1-800-518-4LAW.

Cindy Speaker: Excellent. Dave, thanks for your time today.

Dave Miller:  Thank you Cindy.

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