WAPA and Global Automakers Luncheon and Panel Discussion Recap

WAPA’s July lunch hosted by Global Automakers at the National Press Club featured a panel discussion with representatives from automotive, human behavior, and connectivity industries on how emerging vehicle technologies affect driver attention.

The Global Automakers panel was led by Catherine McCullough, Executive Director of the Intelligent Car Coalition, who posed questions to the panel on a range of related topics. There were four panelists: Dr. Bryan Reimer, a Research Scientist with MIT Age Labs and Associate Director of the New England University Transportation Center; Dr. James Foley Senior Engineer with the Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center; Jeff Stewart Executive Director of Global Public Policy for AT&T; and Jennifer Wahnscaff, Vice President of Instrumentation with Continental Automotive North America.

Currently, vehicle control is primarily in the human driver’s hands, and while autonomous vehicles are on the horizon, there are still major hurdles to overcome before they are commonplace. The panel discussed the distractions that drivers currently face while behind the wheel and how future technology and driver assistance will add to or reduce the distraction. While some active safety systems work without driver involvement, a driver can become distracted reacting to those systems. Expect a number of technologies to become common, such as “gaze technology” to observe driver attitude, attention, and focus. This technology can help determine if the driver is paying attention to the road and automatically take control of the vehicle or give the driver more control based on the driver’s level of attention or inattention.

Autonomous driving will change the way that cars and drivers interact on the road. The panel discussed how integrating new, autonomous driving technology into cars will be a complicated undertaking. There will be a segment of the population that wants to maintain control of the vehicle as much as possible alongside another segment that is looking to be transported from point A to point B without any involvement in the process.

The panel agreed that driver education will be an increasingly important factor. Connecting the driver to the vehicle and the vehicle to the road is key, no matter if it is a computer or a human operating the vehicle.

While the future may be one of computer-operated vehicles, the process to get there, and get there safely, still requires much research, as well as the development of far more sophisticated technology than exists today.

– William Hopper, WAPA Gala Director

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