Children’s book may push autonomous cars from fiction to fact for multiple generations | Crain's Portland

Children’s book may push autonomous cars from fiction to fact for multiple generations

Where Do Cars Go at Night is a book written by the Moovel Group to help educate people on self-driving cars. | Photo courtesy of Moovel Group

Today’s first-grader might think the concept of self-driving cars are about as believable as unicorns. But that same kid’s first car could just might be an autonomous vehicle if automakers and high-tech companies continue on course to develop, test and deploy them and the infrastructure they need.

In an attempt to simplify the complex subject of driverless cars and initiate multigenerational conversations, Moovel Group has written a children’s book called "Where Do Cars Go at Night?" Moovel is a subsidiary of the Germany-based Daimler that focuses on all aspects of mobility – from mass transit to self-driving vehicles. Its North American headquarters is located in Portland.

“We want to bring the many facets of mobility to the masses,” said Patti Kelly, communications manager for Moovel North America. “And in the next decade, autonomous driving is likely to have a huge effect on the world of mobility. We hope this book encourages kids and adults to take part in the social discourse about the future of mobility.”

Looking ahead

"Where do Cars Go at Night?" illustrates how our lives could look in the not-so-distant future due to autonomous driving. The 25-page illustrated book tells the story of a day in the life of the self-driving car called Carla-15. During the day, Carla-15 and her car friends transport people from A to B. At night, they shop, sweep the streets and even water plants in the park.

As an electric vehicle in a car-sharing fleet, Carla refuels at the charging station after her work is done.

These examples illustrate how, through fleet management and advanced sensor technology, self-driving cars could be used in new fields and relieve the burden on cities. 

In locales like Portland, the work on self-driving vehicles is just beginning. The Rose City did not win the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $40 million Smart City Challenge grant, but as a finalist, public and private partnerships were forged, and blueprints for a high-tech street grid, electric neighborhood shuttle buses that could run autonomously and TriMet buses equipped with sensors to collect data were conceived.

Additionally, companies such as Intel are working on driverless car technology. Intel announced its GO brand at CES last month in Las Vegas. Go includes a series of hardware and software development kits to help developers and engineers test and improve autonomous driving applications. Intel GO's platform will take sensor data from cameras or radars on the vehicle and combine them with high-definition maps and artificial intelligence to determine the path the car is going to take.

State involvement

Andrew Dick, connected automated and electric vehicle advisor for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said he has traded information with companies, manufacturers and others interested in the self-driving space. ODOT also implemented a Connected and Automated Vehicle Initiative to help the agency understand when, how and what it needs to do to adapt and stay current on emerging CAV technology as it becomes mainstream. As part of this work, ODOT formed a steering team to guide priorities, identify strategic investments and develop a strategy for responding to national opportunities and regulations down the road.

“I would say we are extremely interested in the automated vehicle,” Dick said. “We think automated vehicles have the potential to solve many of our transportation challenges – helping those with disabilities get around, addressing congestion through car sharing and eliminating the large percentage of crashes, over 90 percent, that are attributed to human error.”

At this point, ODOT does not have an official regulatory role when it comes to self-driving cars, but legislation has been introduced in Salem that could address that.

“I will say that things in the automated vehicle space are moving very, very quickly,” Dick said. And while he’s not yet seen the Moovel children’s book, he believes education and awareness is critical. He said educating the public is the priority for 2017.

 Education could help people embrace the unknown. A recent survey by AAA found that 75 percent of drivers did not like the idea of giving a computer complete control of the steering wheel. Most, however, still want their next car to include some autonomous features.

“If you look at the landscape, mobility has changed so much in the past five years, with Car2Go, Uber, bike shares,” said Moovel’s Kelly. “We want to help keep the conversation evolving.”

January 24, 2017 - 5:29pm