MIT brief says widespread autonomy is at least a decade away

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Automated driving technologies have promised to disrupt urban mobility for a long time, notes the latest research brief from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It also says that since companies began announcing major breakthroughs after 2010, automated driving technologies have begun to raise fears of mass unemployment in transit systems and mobility-related industries such as trucking.

The research brief goes on to consider the current state of automated driving technologies, including driver assistance systems and highly automated vehicles, as well as their potential implications for mobility and employment. Broader impacts, including the interplay with transit and land-use and environmental consequences are also considered.

According to the brief’s authors, the vision of automation in mobility will not be fully realized for some time yet, as recent developments indicate that a major transition will not occur suddenly. Rather, analysis of the data suggests that the reshaping of mobility around automation will take more than a decade. The brief posits that fully automated driving will be restricted to limited geographic regions and climates for at least the next decade; however, increasingly automated mobility systems will thrive in subsequent decades.

The brief notes that even gradual increases in automation will have profound impacts on the movement of people and goods across the world. Plus, automation in cars will not occur in isolation, but within a web of relationships with electrification, connected vehicles and evolving service models across vehicle types.

The authors emphasize that this extended lead time means that policymakers can act now to prepare for and minimize disruptions to the millions of jobs in ground transportation and related industries that are likely to come, while also fostering greater economic opportunity and mitigating environmental impacts by building accessible mobility systems.

Of particular note, the adverse employment impacts from the Covid-19 pandemic add greater urgency to the topic of mitigating the economic impact of automation, the brief states. The pandemic has exacerbated the existing inequities in mobility and employment in cities and has dealt a blow to public transit systems and ridesharing. Additionally, the surge in e-commerce has increased interest in robotic package delivery, and more workers are currently working from home. As a result of these developments, it is suggested that investments in workforce training are needed now more than ever to ensure that workers impacted by Covid-19 have a place in the automated mobility systems of the future.

The full briefing document can be found here.


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