Artificial intelligence and robotics Transportation & Logistics

Why Self-Driving Car Companies Need To Focus On Safety To Succeed

By Pär-Olof Johannesson

When it comes to the autonomous automotive industry, consolidation is increasingly becoming the name of the game. As investors, consumers and founders alike keep their eyes on the future of this rapidly changing industry, many are struggling to discern which companies will be able to stick around for the long haul.

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Yet amidst all the recent consolidation, you’ll find the companies that prioritize the safety and wellbeing of those on the roadways will be the ones to stick around the longest. If the industry wants to move forward, it needs to start prioritizing safety and work with consumers to address their concerns. As such, automotive leaders should be embracing the safety potential of AVs and prioritizing it in all stages of vehicle development.

To quote Larry Burns, formerly of Waymo, when discussing the road to automobility, “the safety leader will be positioned to be the market leader.”

In order to understand recent trends, we need to consider the perspective of consumers and their understanding of autonomous vehicles (AV). Though the industry is still a ways away from fully autonomous driving, the average consumer can rightfully struggle to understand the logistics of vehicle safety as we make the transition.

Recent  studies indicate that consumers’ biggest qualms when it comes to AV integration is safety. And between the lack of federal safety regulations and AV crashes dominating the news cycle, it is not hard to see the origin of their concerns.

But when considering the frequency of road related accidents, refusing to incorporate AV tech is actually more dangerous than letting current driving behaviors stand. When utilized correctly, autonomous vehicles are actually safer than their human driver counterparts.

Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for people aged 5-29 years and the eighth leading cause of deaths globally. Combine that with the fact that 95 percent of all road accidents are caused by human error, autonomous driving can actually offer a solution to the dangerous threat of human-caused roadway fatalities.

That means looking for alternatives and enhancements to LIDAR and existing sensor systems, drastically improving vehicle reaction times, incorporating tech that detects obstacles at 30 to 40 meters, when an accident is more likely to occur and transparently communicating with consumers to address their concerns.

Countries like China that prioritize safety in their AV rollouts are already seeing comparatively greater success than their U.S. counterparts. According to a Deloitte study, as of 2020, only 35 percent of Chinese participants stated they do not think self-driving cars are safe as compared to 48 percent of Americans. Moreover, the United States has generally been slower to change their opinions on the safety of these vehicles, with support wavering between 47-50 percent in the last three years, where countries such as Japan have seen significant positive changes in AV perception.

As the U.S. waits for the federal government to prioritize safety regulations, the industry needs to step up. Because if American tech and automotive companies truly want to compete on a global scale, the industry needs to pivot and push safety to the forefront of its strategy.

Pär-Olof Johannesson is the CEO of Terranet, developers of autonomous vehicle and  advanced driver assistance system software VoxelFlow. Pär-Olof led the IPO on Nasdaq First North in 2017 and has been a seasoned entrepreneur and tech executive for over 20 years. Pär-Olof’s previous positions include operating venture partner at Mankato Investments, BA director at Flextronics, area manager at ABB, project manager at Ericsson and Attaché Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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