MIT Research: Widespread Autonomous Driving is at Least One Decade Away. Maybe More.

The MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future has released a new research brief examining the future of autonomous vehicles. It says “despite substantial recent progress by the industry, fully automated driving systems that have no safety driver onboard will take at least a decade to deploy over large areas, even in regions with favorable weather and infrastructure; winter climates and rural areas will experience still longer transitions. Expansion will likely be gradual and will happen region-by-region in specific categories of transportation, resulting in wide variations in availability across the country.” 

Key Findings

  1. Automated vehicles should be conceived as one element in a mobility mix, and as potential feeders for public transit rather than replacements for it, but unintended consequences such as increased congestion remain risks.
  2. The crucial role of public transit for connecting workers to workplaces will endure: the future of work depends in large part on how people get to work.
  3. The automated vehicle transition will not be jobless. The longer rollout time for Level 4 autonomy provides time for sustained investments in workforce training that can help drivers and other mobility workers transition into new careers that support mobility systems and technologies. Transitioning from current-day driving jobs to these jobs represent potential pathways for employment, so long as job-training resources are available.
  4. While many believe that increased automation will bring greater impacts to trucking than to passenger carrying vehicles, the impact on truck-driving jobs is not expected to be widespread in the short term. Truck drivers do more than just drive, and so human presence within even highly automated trucks would remain valuable for other reasons such as loading, unloading, and maintenance. Policy recommendations here include strengthening career pathways for drivers, increasing labor standards and worker protections, advancing public safety, creating good jobs via human-led truck platooning, and promoting safe and electric trucks.

The brief, “Autonomous Vehicles, Mobility, and Employment Policy: The Roads Ahead,” co-authored by John Leonard, Task Force member and MIT Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering and Erik Stayton, an MIT Doctoral Candidate in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society.

 “Human workers will remain essential to the operation of these systems for the foreseeable future, in roles that are both old and new,” says Leonard. “Ensuring a place for human workers in the automated mobility systems of the future is a key challenge for technologists and policy makers as we seek to improve mobility and safety, and thereby opportunity, for all.”  

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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