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Mobility Today’s data-collection fuels the automated urban transport of tomorrow

Hollywood has been infatuated with self-driving cars since the days of Herbie the Love Bug, but fears about data privacy and safety still have to be overcome before they're widely adopted.

WALT DISNEY PICTURES

Hollywood has long championed the idea of driverless cars, from Herbie, the tearaway Volkswagen Beetle from 1969’s The Love Bug, to the Audi-branded fleets of autonomous vehicles featured in 2013′s Ender’s Game. Back in the real world, the concept of bringing autonomous, connected vehicles to our streets will require some serious imagination too, on the parts of the consumer, the private sector and government.

It will require consumers to overcome the fear of privacy-invasion, as the collection of information from cars on the road today may lead to smoother transportation tomorrow. Canadians deplore the thought of being tracked in their cars – even though today’s smartphones can do exactly that.

“They’re like, ‘Yeah, I have this phone in my pocket that’s being tracked everywhere, but don’t track my car. I don’t want anyone to know where I’m going in my car,'” Jeff Walker, chief strategy officer of the Canadian Automobile Association, told an audience at the Globe and Mail’s Smart Cities Summit recently.

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Uber uses and collects data to let customers know where their ride is in relation to their location, to cost out journeys in advance, to map a trip. While many automakers protect their collected data, “we have a website called Uber Movement which shares billions of data points with urban planners in an automatized fashion, so they can see how traffic ebbs and flows in a city,” said Rob Khazzam, the general manager of Uber Canada.

Uber Canada's Rob Khazzam, Tamara Tomomitsu of Borden Ledner Gervais, Ryan Lanyon, chair of the City of Toronto's automated-vehicles working group, Concordia University associate professor Anjali Awasthi and Globe Drive journalist Petrina Gentile speaking at the Globe Drive Mobility Summit.

Glenn Lawson/The Globe and Mail

Khazzam said that it’s important for companies to be forthcoming and transparent about their data-collection policies, privacy and data-protection guidelines.

“I would encourage consumers to really think about the companies that they are transacting with and how they make money,” he said, explaining that some businesses collect data for the purpose of selling it, while others leverage data for a common interest.

Tamara Tomomitsu, partner with Toronto’s Bordner Ladner Gervais and a member of the law firm’s autonomous-vehicle group, acknowledged the potential for hacking, due to the computerization of modern vehicles. A standing federal Senate committee made 16 recommendations last year with respect to connected and autonomous vehicles; four of the 16 related to cybersecurity. Tomomitsu expects a more collaborative space surrounding data and cybersecurity among automakers in the future, with an expectation that automakers will audit themselves.

“If they want to get these vehicles on the road, they have to have consumer confidence,” Tomomitsu says. “So they understand it’s a concern, and they’re doing a lot of testing in that regard so people can sleep a little safer knowing that.”

While the potential is there for a car to be hacked, in reality, human error is at fault in the vast majority of motor-vehicle accidents, with just over 40,000 occurring annually in Ontario alone, according to a 2012-16 Ministry of Transportation study.

“There are benefits that are going to come with more autonomy, that we have to look forward to as a positive,” she says.

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Uber’s vision of connected cities and communities projects a network of multi-modal transportation involving shared rides and autonomous vehicles, all powered by electricity. Indeed, the question of car ownership factors into planning the connected communities of the future, but at this point, no one really knows how it will shake out.

“Whether people will only own automated vehicles or will not own any cars whatsoever, some sort of mix, or whether automation might not even happen,” says Ryan Lanyon, chair for the City of Toronto’s automated-vehicles working group. “We’re just trying to keep our options open at this time.”

Lanyon said the degree to which people will own their own vehicles in the future is still unknown, so Toronto has to prepare for different possibilities.

Glenn Lawson/The Globe and Mail

While some think that shared rides and autonomy will mostly impact the second and third cars that families own today, others believe that a failure to reduce ownership will be an opportunity lost. “I think we will have collectively failed if the rate of car ownership … 10 years from now is the same,” Khazzam said, pointing out that a vehicle is an expensive, depreciating asset that primarily sits still in driveways.

Urban transportation over the next five years is expected to evolve into a combination of public transit, electric bikes, personal cars, scooters and ride-sharing. “Short-duration trips represent a massive opportunity where autonomous vehicles won’t be efficient,” Khazzam said. “These are all going to be different methods that you can use to get to one place or another.”

“I think that’s an important intermediary step before you get to a state that you see in the movies, where everyone is in an electric, autonomous vehicle.”

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