17 Conference Report #techonomy17

The Path to Autonomous Mobility


  • Techonomy2017 Conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Monday, November 6, 2017. (Photography by Paul Sakuma Photography) www.PaulSakuma.com

  • Techonomy2017 Conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Monday, November 6, 2017. (Photography by Paul Sakuma Photography) www.PaulSakuma.com

  • Techonomy2017 Conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Monday, November 6, 2017. (Photography by Paul Sakuma Photography) www.PaulSakuma.com

  • From left: Mark Bartolomeo of Verizon, Melissa Cefkin from Nissan, Douglas Davis of Intel, Trumbull Unmanned's Dyan Gibbens, and Chris Urmson of Aurora in conversation with moderator Steven Levy of Backchannel. Photo Credit: Paul Sakuma Photography


Mark Bartolomeo
Vice President, Connected Solutions - Internet of Things, Verizon

Melissa Cefkin
Principal Scientist, Design Anthropologist at Nissan Research Center, Nissan

Douglas Davis
Senior Vice President and General Manager, Automated Driving Group, Intel Corporation

Dyan Gibbens
CEO & Founder, Trumbull Unmanned

Chris Urmson
CEO, Aurora


Steven Levy
Editor-in-Chief, Backchannel

Session Description: Unmanned aircraft of all sizes, self-driving cars, ships, and robots—all are moving quickly towards autonomous mobility capability. But it’s not just about smart systems and sensors. What policies, changes in social attitude, and other advances are needed so autonomous machines can seamlessly navigate the same landscape as we do?

Below is an excerpt of the panel with the full transcript available here.


Ross: We’ve got some great speakers to talk about how we get to a system where there is true, seamless, autonomous mobility. So I’m going to introduce Steven Levy, the editor-in-chief of Backchannel. He is going to moderate this for us and he will introduce the panelists.

Levy: Great, thank you, Simone. I’m excited about this, too. I’ve been looking a lot at the space, particularly the autonomous cars, the self-driving cars, but I think it’s a great idea to talk about the larger picture of autonomous mobility that includes other things besides that, that operate on their own and get around in our world. We’re going to have a lot of that in the world.

Before I go to the panelists and introduce them, I just want a little poll here. How many people here in the audience have actually been in—as a passenger, not a driver, certainly— a car that drives itself? And for the purposes of this article, I’ll include the Tesla Autopilot. And we’ve got a bunch there. And how many don’t ever want to? Okay, so you’re all into it there. And my panel, I’m sure, is going to open up to you a lot of insights about what we need to do to get to that future and then a little bit about what happens when we do get to the future there.

The panel from my far right is Mark Bartolomeo.  He is the vice president of the Internet of Things at Verizon.

Melissa Cefkin is an anthropologist at Nissan.

Doug Davis of Intel; he is the vice president and general manager of the Augmented Driving Group at Intel, which has a very big interest in this.

Dyan Gibbens, is the CEO and founder of Trumbull Unmanned. She’ll tell us what that is; it’s a lot to do with drones.

And finally and certainly not least, Chris Urmson, who is the founder and CEO of Aurora Technologies. I met him when he was involved with X or Google X or Alphabet X—

Urmson: Something like that.

Levy: Yes, or as Apple would say, ten, in their self-driving car project there. So I want to ask each of you two things here. One, just say maybe a couple sentences about what you do at the place where you do it. And then also to answer the question, when does this happen?

Bartolomeo: When does what happen?

Levy: So when do we achieve the singularity of autonomous mobility, when our cars drive themselves and the boats and the planes and the trucks?

Bartolomeo: So my role at Verizon is I’m responsible for all of our IoT solutions, which are primarily addressing the industrial sectors and businesses—healthcare, fleet management, telematics, a lot of the transportation and energy management types of businesses. And you know, we see transportation as probably the place where we’ll have the biggest impact on autonomous mobility, although I know we’re going to talk about robotics and things like that today.

We got involved initially in telematics back in 1997 with the 1997 Cadillac when it was being launched by General Motors and OnStar at the time and we’ve stayed very involved in the automotive industry. We have about 6 million vehicles on the network today and about a million fleet vehicles that we manage. From a timing standpoint, we think this will be a very serial, evolutionary type of approach. We’ll see different types of autonomy taking place, we’ll see certain industries and markets moving faster. We think we’ll see UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle] lead a lot of that. We think there’s some really well-defined business cases that support UAVs.

But in terms of full autonomous vehicles, by 2030 or 2035, maybe 30 percent of the vehicles being sold will be fully autonomous. They probably would only account for maybe 10 to 20 percent at the most of miles driven. So we’re going to see this three-percent adoption and this five- and 10- and 20-percent adoption over a very long period of time.

Levy: Interesting, okay, so keeping in that mind, you were talking really mid-century for the singularity? Okay. Melissa?

Cefkin: I’m happy to be here and a part of this conversation. I lead a small group of social scientists, where we focus on how the world will engage with autonomous vehicles from the standpoint of the everyday, average person in the world who might encounter these cars on the road. So you asked the question about how many people had been inside of them or some degree of that, with the Tesla or something else.

What we look at is all the people who don’t even know, necessarily, that they might be interacting with them, engaged with them, as a starting point, to unpack the question of what will it mean to have more of these increasingly autonomous systems moving about and occupying our world, and how does it change or address how we live and what we’re trying to accomplish. And currently, we use that work at Nissan to inform both the system design that can help us shape how these vehicles, the cars themselves, should move and maybe adapt as they move around the world. Nissan is a global car company in the mass market and we’re really committed that we make vehicles that are going to be meaningful and adaptable in the variety of markets that we serve, which is many, many places. And then we also imagine how the vehicles themselves might need a change, with additional signaling and what possibilities for services and all there will be.

Like Mark said, I think that we also see a sort of gradual projection in terms of the shift and it’s not going to be all or nothing. It’s not right away, tomorrow, that we’re going to see the more fully autonomous [transportation]. So we will see some pockets of use for fully autonomous vehicles by about 2026 and it will be a gradual development to get to that, and then on from there.

Levy: Okay.

Davis: So from my standpoint, my team has been developing primarily the computing that’s necessary for these kinds of autonomous vehicles. But we recently also acquired a company called Mobileye that gives us the ability to both understand more about the environment, how to do that very efficiently and combine that with the computing or the decision-making that is necessary within the vehicle.

But the other part of my role has been connecting the other parts of Intel to support the ecosystem for these kinds of devices. They need to be connected, right? And so, provide that connectivity that the edge of the network is going to play a really important role in deploying things like maps or providing us content when we’re just passengers in these vehicles and we can use that time more productively. And then of course, everything that happens in the data center to do calculations, to refine models, to be able to support the fleets of vehicles out on the road. So from an Intel perspective, we really think about that full breadth, from the vehicle to the data center.

Levy: Why was buying Mobileye important to this since, obviously, there was a momentum in the field on its own? That was a substantial investment you made in that company. Why did you feel that you guys had to be in that one?

Davis: Well, certainly they bring a significant amount of expertise in this space. They’ve been doing driver-assist technologies for many, many years. They’ve been in business for 19 years now. They’re deployed in millions of vehicles. And so it gives us the ability to put together both the capabilities to understand the environment around the vehicle as well as to be able to calculate trajectory.

I tend to agree with Mark’s and Melissa’s comments in terms of when we will see the majority of vehicles. I think we’re going to be talking in the 2025 to 2030 range. But I’m also one of those that’s advocating the industry to move fast. We can’t do like we did with airbags. It took 50 years for that technology to become pervasive in cars and to me, this has got to happen much, much faster because it will save lives. And so I think just the imperative for all of us it make it move faster than the automotive industry’s ever moved before.

Levy: Great. Okay, Dyan?

Gibbens: Good morning, I’m Dyan Gibbens. I lead Trumbull Unmanned; we’re a Forbes Top 25 veteran-founded company and we fly drones in challenging and austere environments to collect and analyze data for the energy sector. We fly and collect data and we analyze that data both onshore and offshore, upstream, midstream, and downstream, and we focus on environmental and industrial sustainability. So that’s what we do as a company. We’re Houston-based. And with respect to autonomy, I think it depends on how we define autonomy. I think that was brought up a couple times. And how we move forward with that. So who here thinks autonomy’s going to decrease over time, our usage of it? Okay, no one’s hand is raised.


And then who thinks we’re going to use fewer unmanned systems over time? No. And so it’s that evolution of how we ensure that we’re progressing autonomy with digital ethics in mind, how we’re progressing autonomy with the greater good in mind, and that we don’t let certain tools and technology into nefarious actors. I’m just going to throw out some big things early on but I look forward to this conversation.

Levy: Great.

Urmson: So I lead Aurora Innovation; we’re a company building an automated driver, effectively. So we want to focus on doing what we think we can do really well, which is the software and the systems to drive the car, and then work with partners who know how to build the hardware, build the vehicles, and know how to bring it to market and help see the safety benefits and the other consumer benefits that matter. And this is why my team and I are so passionate about this.

When’s it going to happen? I think you can start to see it today. So many people have been in cars and you can buy a production Tesla today, which has a driver-assistance capability. You can also go to fenced-off places where you can ride in a driverless shuttle at low speed and do that safely. And what’s going to happen is the application domains, where you can get in a vehicle that drives itself, are going to increase over time as we get safer and better. And I agree with Doug that we have to move this as quickly as possible because, unlike airbags— where really the only benefit is saving you in a horrible event so you don’t really get to experience the upside of it on a daily basis—with self-driving technology you’re going to see that upside every day. And so we get all the safety benefits along with the fact that you can sit in the car and do what it is you want to do on your drive in the morning.

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