QIS: A Long Road to the Driverless Future
December 28, 2017
Enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles is strong, especially among automakers and high-tech corporations. Before they can be widely deployed, however, some basic questions still need to be answered.
(Pleasanton, CA) December 28, 2017— “Over the past couple of years,” says Michael Macauley, “tremendous technological progress has been made toward a truly autonomous road vehicle—a car that can be controlled sensors and computers, with no need for intervention by its human passengers.” Macauley, who is CEO of Quadrant Information Services, a leading supplier of pricing analytics services to property and casualty insurance carriers, adds, “The pace of development has ben so rapid, in fact, that many observers are predicting that by the 2020s, driverless cars will be a common feature of the landscape.1 A closer look, however, reveals these predictions to be overly optimistic—perhaps by a decade or more.”
The automotive and tech industries, Macauley notes, have made great strides toward solving the basic engineering problems inherent in driverless auto transportation. In the past eighteen months, forthcoming autonomous models from Ford2 and Volvo3 have been announced, along with car prototypes from tech firms like Intel4 and Google/Alphabet subsidiary Waymo5. Meanwhile, General Motors and Lyft have announced a joint venture to put a fleet of autonomous taxicabs on the street by 2019.6
A recent major article in Science notes that politicians are also enthusiastic about the technology. The article quotes Senator Gary Peters of Michigan: “This is probably the biggest thing to hit the auto industry since the first car came off the assembly line,” said Peters in a speech at a recent computing conference in Washington. It will not only completely revolutionize the way we get around, but also [has] the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.”
Such predictions, comments Science, turn out to be based in surprisingly little research. “While developers amass data on the sensors and algorithms that allow cars to drive themselves, research on the social, economic, and environmental effects of autonomous vehicles is sparse. Truly autonomous driving is still decades away according to most transportation experts.”7
As an example of a poorly-researched social issue surrounding driverless cars, the Science article points to the expected cost of these vehicles, which must include not only the basic components of a conventional automobile—brakes, steering, lights, doors, etc.—but also a vast array of visual and auditory sensors, controlling software, communications capability, and high-speed computing power. There is intense (and, at the moment, largely theoretical) debate about how much more expensive these vehicles will be than conventional cars, but there is no question that that at least in the early years they will be something of a luxury item8.
Driverless technology advocates, notes Quadrant’s Macauley, predict a future in which individuals and families will not own cars but rent time in them, rather like calling for a taxi. In an age of increasing income inequality, however, he observes, it is difficult to imagine that the affluent will not prefer to have their own exclusive transportation, thus creating another potential social division.
“If this technology is as good as it sounds,” says Macauley, “and I personally believe that it is, eventually all these issues will be resolved. But for us, the key word is ‘eventually.’ A lot of the stated possible benefits of driverless motoring—sharing, fewer vehicles, relative hack-proofness—are at this point based on some optimistic assumptions both about human nature and about the smoothness of technological progress.
“It’s going to be up to property and casualty insurers to assess this technology, understand what it’s doing, and evaluate it in terms of risk. As answers appear to the myriad questions about autonomous driving, at Quadrant we will be busy tracking those answers, analyzing them, and turning them into actionable data for p&c insurers. It’s the best way we can help our clients protect their policyholders—no matter who’s driving the cars they ride in.”
About Quadrant Information Services:
Quadrant Information Services, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA, provides pricing analytics solutions for property and casualty insurance companies. Quadrant gives actuary, product development, pricing, sales, and marketing personnel at its client companies—who include all the major insurance carriers in the United States— the data they need to make accurate, data-driven decisions. An industry innovator since its founding in 1991, Quadrant has provided the P&C insurance field with a long series of technological advances, most recently InsureWatch, the industry’s first cloud-based pricing tool, which allows the user to produce unlimited combinations of reports with the click of a mouse. For more information, and to learn why Quadrant is for insurance companies that are tired of losing the right customers and winning the wrong ones, please visit www.quadinfo.com.
Knapman, Chris, “How long until we have fully driverless cars?”, Telegraph, May 19, 2016.
Bigelow, Pete, “Ford Promises Fully Autonomous Cars by 2021,” Car and Driver, August 16, 2016.
Adamczyk, Ed, “Volvo builds its first self-driving car,” UPI, September 13, 2016.
Hall-Geisler, Kristen, “Intel announces $250 million for driverless tech,” TechCrunch, November 15, 2016.
Wakabayashi, Daisuke, “Waymo’s Autonomous Cars Cut Out Human Drivers in Road Tests,” New York Times, November 7, 2017.
Davies, Alex, “GM and Lyft Are Building a Network of Self-Driving Cars,” Wired, January 4, 2016.
Mervis, Jeffrey, “Are we going too fast on driverless cars?”, Science, December 14, 2017.
Tannert, Chuck, “Will You Ever Be Able To Afford A Self-Driving Car?”, Fast Company, January 31, 2014.
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Karla Jo Helms