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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Stagg

A Shift Towards an Automated Future?

Sign on side of road reminding drivers to social distance
Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

In the aftermath of COVID-19, it's likely that we will begin rethinking things that were a normal part of the fabric of society before the virus, from working in offices all week to makeup testers at the mall. What if another one of the things we rethink is automated vehicles?

In an article for the Globe and Mail, Jason Tchir discusses the possibility that COVID experience will lead us to re-evaluate a technology that, as of yet, people have been reluctant to embrace.

As recently as last year a survey of public opinion showed that most consumers don't feel they can trust automated vehicle technology. As Tchir points out, there is good reason for this, with numerous vehicle crashes (and fatalities) occurring that have demonstrated that automated cars have the potential to be dangerous.

But COVID has been effective in highlighting the weaknesses in the current system, and one of those weaknesses is the ability for transport that doesn't necessitate close physical contact.

"Even if we're not ready to ride in a self-driving car, could we be more inclined to let self-driving cars carry around our stuff? With Covid-19 and the need to limit our exposure to other people, the idea of AV delivery might start to make more sense."

Tchir points to several examples of instances where the technology is already been utilized to this end. In Florida, a clinic has been using an automated shuttle to transport patients from the testing site to the processing laboratory. In China, automated delivery vans have been used to delivery medical and food supplies (a topic we wrote about earlier on this blog.)

While these are direct examples of self-driving technology in action, Tchir also believes that some of the widely adopted practices for social distancing that have become common are not far removed from the idea of automated technology.

"During the pandemic, many delivery companies are already moving to contactless delivery - where the driver leaves things outside your door, for instance. Once this is over, the idea of no driver at all may seem like less of a leap."

The reality is the total integration of self-driving cars into mainstream culture is a long way off, and many things will need to change and happen before that full integration occurs, but public acceptance of the functionality of automated technology is an important part of helping to shift the culture. And with COVID giving rise to new needs, that shift may just occur sooner than later.

For more on this topic, check out the original piece by Jason Tchir in the Globe and Mail.


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