MobilityTalks Gathers Auto, Tech, and Government Leaders to Discuss Smart Cities, Data Privacy

While the future of autonomous vehicles is very much under continued discussion, the focus of this year’s MobilityTalks International shifted more to the problems at hand. A repeated theme in many of the sessions was how best to integrate AV technologies into overall domestic and international policy, encourage innovation and at all times promote safety.

MobilityTalks kicked off at 8:30 a.m. last Wednesday morning with an announcement featuring Qualcomm, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and Audi, regarding a partnership to deploy cellular vehicle-to-everything technology on the commonwealth’s roadways, in an effort to greatly reduce car accidents in the future.

Following that announcement, representatives from the EU, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea participated in international Plenary Panel sessions moderated by Leslie Allen, Mobility Editor at Automotive News. Discussions focused on how cities worldwide are planning for near term and future technological innovations aimed at overall mobility.

Safety was the primary concern voiced by all panel members, as was the need to agree on core principles, share information, avoiding trade barriers and utilizing the best science available while protecting individual privacy. Vehicle testing was also discussed, as was the need to be mindful of the possibility that regulations can be made too quickly if proper research lags behind.

Another panel session echoed many of the same points, stressing the tremendous worldwide financial impact of vehicle crashes (over $1 trillion) and the critical need for a systematic but unified approach toward full autonomy for all types of vehicles.

A “Fireside Chat” featuring Ms. Gretchen Effgen, Vice President of Global Partnerships at Aptiv, brought the conversation back to self-driving technology. Ms. Effgen stressed that any such technology must be about getting the safest cars on the road, not ones that simply offer gadgetry. Ms Effgen spoke of the need to maintain US leadership, particularly in the future use of robotic vehicles such as taxis and shuttles as cities become more and more congested. “It’s possible that 200,000 robotic taxis and shuttles could handle as many people in cities that now utilize 800,000 cars,” said Ms. Effgen.

Following this session were two more devoted to discussion of Smart Cities and the Future of Mobility and the Partnership for Autonomous Vehicle Education (PAVE). Of particular note in these discussions was the general agreement that the public at large is highly skeptical – or at least concerned – about self-driving vehicles and the need for education. Representatives from NTT Data Services, SmartCities Columbus Partnership, D.C. DOT, City of Pittsburgh, Zoox, Cruise, Securing America’s Future Energy and United Spinal weighed in on the many challenges yet to be addressed.

The joint luncheon session, co-sponsored by the Auto Show and the Society of Automotive Engineers, was the best-attended session of its kind in MobilityTalks’ history. The lunch program focused on the subject of “Disruption in Dealerships: A Round Table Conversation” addressed the changes and challenges to the traditional dealership experience and new business models. While these challenges were discussed at length, the panel agreed that little disruption has occurred so far and is not seen on the horizon because the multiple segments of a dealership have shown to take up the slack when one segment is not doing well. Dealership services are unique, and that it’s not inevitable that every transaction will be online because people are different.

Breakout sessions during the afternoon focused again on safety, U.S.-China relations and their global implications, vehicle privacy and preparing drivers to use advanced technology, particularly in who has the responsibility. Lively discussions took place and many questions left unanswered, but MobilityTalks provided the unique platform that enabled such important discussions to take place and for continued communication.

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