- Those excited about the future of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and other technology should dream big about what they can do, a Toyota executive said last week.
- In a speech at the Meeting of the Minds Mobility Summit in Ann Arbor, MI, Toyota North America Strategy Office Senior Manager Paul Fanson said that full vehicle autonomy may not be the "end-game" but could be just the start, especially by 2050.
- "The solution I like better is that I think we need to choose our own adventure,” Fanson said regarding potential obstacles for AV tech growth. “I think we need to try to work together and come up with some interesting solutions to these problems, because after all, the best way to predict the future is to create it."
Fanson’s speech, entitled "Looking Out Towards 2050," took a bold look at what cities and technology could be like in 32 years, and comes at a time when Toyota is involved in an AV arms race against fellow car manufacturers and technology companies. Toyota is testing the technology on three enclosed proving-grounds in Ann Arbor, MI and Concord, CA, although it paused testing on public roads after a fatal accident involving an Uber AV in Tempe, AZ. The company also recently invested in another test site in southern Michigan.
During his speech, Fanson questioned whether AVs would be fully autonomous — known as Level 5 autonomy — by 2050, given the challenges that exist around the technology, including its safety and whether existing infrastructure will be able to cope. "Honestly, I don't know if we will be, because there are some challenges there that are really, really hard," Fanson said. "Maybe we'll be there, maybe we won't. It depends on how fast these individual technologies advance and whether they plateau."
And while Fanson noted trying to predict the future is "like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window,” he suggested that full autonomy might not even be the end goal. Instead, he said, maybe in time cars will be like Knight Rider in the 1980s TV series, which was fully autonomous and self-aware, so able to act as David Hasselhoff’s assistant as he fought crime.
Fanson also took issue with people’s desire to find the "magical unicorn that we're all looking for, disruptive technology." Companies like Uber and Tesla have been defined as "disruptive" because they do things very different from the norm, but Fanson said that instead, focusing on technology that shows iterative, sustained improvement over a few years is healthier. He gave the example of the lithium ion battery, which could have been disruptive, but showed an uptick in performance and lower cost as research continued. "You can see this is a very linear progression of an incremental improvement. They got a little bit better and a little bit better every year; they got a little bit cheaper and a little bit cheaper every year," Fanson said.