On the Horizon: The Future of Autonomous Vehicles
Wednesdays with Woodward webinar
January 27, 2021
Driverless ride-hailing programs, truck platoons and autonomous delivery vehicles – the future of our roads will undoubtedly look different from today. In this episode of the Wednesdays with Woodward webinar series, Travelers Institute President Joan Woodward discussed the future of autonomous vehicles (AVs) with Dr. Mark R. Rosekind, Chief Safety Innovation Officer at Zoox and former Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and Michael Klein, Executive Vice President and President of Personal Insurance at Travelers.
AV technology today
Woodward kicked off this session with an educational look at the state of AVs and a glimpse at what they might mean for the future of mobility, safety and insurance. More than 1,000 participants joined the program and heard insights from Dr. Rosekind of Zoox, the self-driving subsidiary of Amazon. He shared an eye-opening look at the company’s new all-electric robotaxi, designed for on-demand autonomous ride hailing in urban environments. [View Zoox’s new vehicle here]
Today’s AV ecosystem includes many players, from start-ups to tech giants, advancing autonomous technologies across several business models. Zoox has set out to build a vehicle for riders, instead of drivers, giving them the opportunity to reimagine the vehicle as we all know it. This includes removing the steering wheel, innovating the placements of air bags and much more.
The program explored some of the unique features of Zoox’s vehicle, including that it is bidirectional. "I always tell people – get your head around that," said Dr. Rosekind. "There’s no front or back." As an example, he described that pulling in to or out of a parking space never requires going in reverse. In dense, urban environments, he said that means enhanced maneuverability.
Enhancing roadway safety, including during the transition to autonomous vehicles, is an important opportunity. The former NHTSA Administrator, whose current role focuses on "safety innovation," emphasized that Zoox has introduced more than 100 safety advancements. For example, the company’s vehicle will not start unless all occupants are wearing seat belts. Dr. Rosekind pointed out that almost half of U.S. traffic fatalities in 2019 were from unrestrained vehicle occupants.
Klein also underscored the importance of safety innovations. "The good news is that as technology improves safety, it will likely reduce the number of, and severity of, crashes and the injuries associated with them," he said.
And autonomous vehicle features are already saving lives. Automatic emergency braking, a safety feature that allows a vehicle to brake when a potential collision is detected, is “probably the single most important advancement in vehicle safety in a long, long time,” Klein said. He also shared that this feature, which will be standard on most new vehicles by 2022, is one of the most significant developments in his insurance career.
Insurance in an AV world
An AV world will introduce an evolution of changing transportation risks, which the insurance industry is poised to help manage. For the near term, each level of autonomous driving (a classification system of 1 through 5 developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers) will present unique risks, according to Klein.
Insurance will play an important role in addressing these risks and providing the certainty needed for technological advancement, Klein shared. He noted that insurance policies that underwrite research and development, as well as early AV deployments, help enable transportation innovation. Historically, this has been the case, he said, as the industry helped enable other innovations like the automobile and even space exploration.
Importantly, insurance also provides an effective and efficient mechanism to compensate crash victims. This is the view that the Travelers Institute put forward in January 2021 as part of an updated position paper, Insuring Autonomy: How auto insurance will lead through changing risks.
"After a collision, insurance pays vehicle owners right away and sorts out fault on the back end,” said Klein. “You don’t have to wait for a determination of fault to get your doctor’s bill paid or your car back on the road."
Klein shared that one of the challenges presented by autonomous technologies is the cost of repairs. He noted that replacing a side mirror on a standard sedan with blind-spot monitoring costs twice as much as without the feature. Thinking about Zoox’s "ground-up" design, Klein was excited about opportunities to reimagine vehicle builds for cost savings, such as placing sensors in areas of a vehicle that are less likely to be impacted during a collision.
"We've partnered with folks in insurance, and I think what you just said is critical," said Dr. Rosekind. "We're all in the learning phase right now. Great benefits are out there."
When asked when AVs would be available broadly to the public, Dr. Rosekind thought people may have more opportunities to experience this technology in the next three to five years.
"When could any of us probably walk out of our building and get out an app to get a robotaxi? That could be 20 to 30 years until we see AVs at scale," he said.
Klein encouraged insurance agents and brokers to continue to educate themselves about opportunities to provide insurance in the AV market, not only to self-driving vehicle companies but also to component manufacturers, software developers and the long list of organizations that support this industry.
"Don't bet against the technology,” Klein said. “It's not going to happen overnight, but it is going to happen.”
Presented by the Travelers Institute and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.
Michael F. Klein, Executive Vice President; President, Personal Insurance, Travelers
Dr. Mark R. Rosekind, Chief Safety Innovation Officer, Zoox; Former Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Joan Woodward, President, Travelers Institute; Executive Vice President, Public Policy, Travelers