The world may still wait years for autonomous vehicles to emerge from their test phase. Meanwhile, transportation continues to get greener, thanks to electric power, and cars are getting more connected to the cloud, smartphones and each other, according to speakers at a Smart Mobility Summit in San Francisco this week.
"How often do we get to see, much less be part of, such a big shift in technology?" said Doug Newcomb, senior industry analyst for mobility at Wards Intelligence and a conference organizer. "It's going to affect so many things in transportation."
Self-driving cars have dominated the hype. They've reached a point where they can handle situations such as highway driving. But while awareness of autonomous vehicles has grown, so has apprehension about them, according to a consumer survey by Kelley Blue Book. The obvious culprit: well-publicized fatal accidents caused by a self-driving Uber car and by a few Teslas on Autopilot.
But "the real challenges are edge cases," like complex driving environments in cities, said Wolfgang Juchmann, vice president at AutonomouStuff, which supplies components for autonomous cars. "The only way to address that is to generate more data, have more people drive around with test vehicles, and complement that with simulation data," he said.
Amid the innovation free-for-all, one area of increasing contention is who controls the curb on the edges of the streets. Right now, it's a battle between parked cars, ride-hailing, "shared" car rentals, commuter shuttles and scooters -- and soon, robot taxis will join the fray.
"The curb is almost like a portal to life in San Francisco," said Danielle Harris, senior transportation planner for the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Agency's Office of Innovation. "We're working on efforts to free it up."