Rita Excell, Executive Director, the Australia and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative
The arrival of driverless vehicles on our streets is getting ever closer. But while automated technologies promise a number of safety and mobility benefits, there are also concerns about the impact self-driving vehicles could have on driving jobs.
The Australia and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) recently commissioned a report on the subject, which found that the driverless vehicle industry is set to boost productivity and provide a range of new employment opportunities in Australia, despite potential job losses within the traditional transportation sector.
In the first part of a two-part interview, we speak to ADVI Executive Director Rita Excell to find out more about what driverless vehicles might mean for industry jobs, and what support the body believes will be required for industry retraining and skills.
Your report found that the industry could boost productivity and provide new jobs in Australia – can you tell us a bit more?
Automated technologies will fundamentally change employment prospects within a number of sectors, says Excell. “But what isn’t known yet is what extent those changes will be.”
With this in mind, ADVI commissioned a report to provide some insight into these issues and encourage the driverless vehicle industry to “answer the tough questions about which jobs will be lost”, she says, while also exploring which new jobs will be created.
In light of the report, she says, “we are confident that there are a range of new job opportunities to be created by the automated vehicle industry and the development and increased use of new driverless vehicle technologies.”
“We are confident that there are a range of new job opportunities to be created by the automated vehicle industry.”
And while driverless vehicles will also lead to some job losses, she says, “any job losses experienced within the traditional transportation sector will be offset by the many jobs created within the engineering, automotive, electrical and software industry sectors”, as these sectors are called on to service and support the driverless vehicle industry.
She believes the critical transition period will begin in 2025, “as we see more people start to embrace this new technology and change the way they get around”. In particular, says Excell, drivers will shift away from car ownership to embrace the convenience of hiring and using a car as and when they need it, similarly to the way they do now with Uber and ridesharing services.
Are these findings likely to apply to other markets too, or are they specific to Australia?
While the report focused on Australia, its findings apply well beyond the Australian context, says Excell. “You only have to consider the many e-commerce, mobile phone and internet provider industries around the globe to understand that business service roles are now a key part of an economy.”
As far as driverless vehicles go, she says, “it is reasonable to assume a raft of new jobs to be created across professional, scientific and technical services industries – especially in those developed countries that are heavily investing in automated vehicle technologies.”
“Any job losses experienced within the traditional transportation sector will be offset by the many jobs created within the engineering, automotive, electrical and software industry sectors.”
In particular, notes Excell, the report identifies strong growth opportunities for businesses operating in large-scale leasing and fleet rental and management, whether in Australia or further afield.
If anything, she says, the challenge now is for industry sectors “to embrace new business models” if they want to generate additional work for professional and advisory firms setting up vehicle management systems to hire, maintain, service, clean, recharge and store new driverless vehicle fleets.
The report also found that job losses in today’s transportation sector will be offset by these new positions. What is this likely to mean for retraining and skills in the sector?
“Just as with any new technology, industry will have to adapt and invest in its workers to ensure they also transition to a new operating environment,” says Excell. For some workers, this might mean minor re-training, while for others it could mean a complete change of role.
“The introduction of driverless vehicles will create jobs that haven’t even been considered yet”
At the same time, the industry will create completely new roles, she notes. “Just as we have seen quite mainstream jobs transition over the course of time – such as blacksmiths, milkmen, elevator and switchboard operators – the introduction of driverless vehicles will create jobs that haven’t even been considered yet.”
For example, says Excell, simply travelling in a driverless vehicle will lead to the creation of a range of new roles. “Someone will need to develop new forms of digital entertainment and the full range of mobile business facilities expected by consumers.”
As a result, she notes, it won’t just be the automotive sector that benefits from driverless vehicles. With software costs set to rise from 10% of current car values to as much as 40%, the electronics and software sectors are also expected to reap the rewards.
The trucking and freight industry will “obviously” also experience changes, says Excell, as automated vehicle technology increases logistics capacity, allowing for more shipments, and today’s operators transition from traditional driving roles to become monitors of automated vehicle systems.
What steps should policymakers take to ensure today’s workers can keep up as industry jobs evolve?
As the industry develops, a great deal of collaboration will be required across industry and government, says Excell. “Automated vehicles are part of expanded global supply chains that link research, artificial intelligence, software, communications and vehicle production. This means that AV technologies have new and significant value chains that have the potential to improve productivity in the economy.”
With this in mind, ADVI recently welcomed the creation of the Commonwealth Office for Future Transport Technology as a “significant step towards the safe and successful introduction of driverless vehicles onto Australian roads”.
“AV technologies have new and significant value chains that have the potential to improve productivity in the economy.”
Excell believes it is critical that all levels of government work together with industry to ensure a “consistent, sustained and well-planned introduction of these technologies across our road and public transport networks”.
Highlighting the challenge ahead, she notes that there is still a great deal to be done on aspects of insurance, liability, infrastructure readiness, import approvals and community acceptance. With this in mind, ADVI looks forward to “working collaboratively with the new Office and its many program partners to address these gaps”, says Excell.
Many of the trials conducted so far in Australia and New Zealand have focused on automated shuttles. How do you think this will reflect most people’s experience of driverless transport?
One of the biggest hurdles for the industry – “perhaps the biggest”, she says – will be winning the hearts and minds of the public. ADVI-commissioned research confirms that people are concerned about many issues relating to completely self-driving vehicles, “particularly in regard to legal and financial responsibility should something go wrong”.
Because of this, Excell believes that driverless shuttles are a good platform for introducing people to driverless technology. Not only do they offer an intelligent and environmentally-friendly mobility option, but, importantly, a “first mile-last mile solution fills a gap rather than replacing any current transport method they may use”.
Excell believes that driverless shuttles are a good platform for introducing people to driverless technology.
Over time, ADVI expects to see wider applications of driverless vehicle technologies servicing people’s first and last mile requirements. Waymo launched its self-driving taxi in the US in December 2018, while companies such as GM and Daimler plan to deploy driverless on-demand taxi services in the near future. “It won’t be long until these business models land in Australia”, she notes.
As these services arrive, people are likely to begin forgoing personal car ownership in favour of shared, driverless vehicles. So, says Excell, “it is important to integrate car sharing into Australia’s public transport mix now”, to help educate people about the benefits of on-demand shared driverless vehicles.
Notably, she believes that as people begin to use driverless vehicle services, the cost of doing so will easily be covered by the money they would traditionally have invested in buying a car. As a result, she predicts people will begin to forego personal car ownership in favour of shared, driverless vehicles, resulting in Australian households having more money to spend on other things.
However, while vehicle ownership itself may fall, the total kilometres travelled are predicted to increase, making it “critical to introduce much cleaner, zero emission vehicles into the nation’s vehicle fleet”, says Excell.
She notes that Perth is one of three cities recently selected to trial the deployment of a driverless, on-demand robo-taxi, while Adelaide-based Cohda Wireless has started a technology trial in the city using two driverless Lincoln sedans.
ADVI’s own research shows that “most people are comfortable with the idea of a driverless vehicle undertaking most normal driving functions”, says Excell. “That is a huge vote of confidence in a technology that really is yet to prove its worth to everyday road and public transport users.”
This is the first part of a two-part interview with Rita Excell. Read the second part now to find out more about the risks of a ‘driverless divide’ and the challenges involved in educating consumers about driverless vehicles.
About the expert
Rita Excell, Executive Director, ADVI
Rita Excell is Executive Director of the Australia and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) Centre of Excellence and is responsible for delivering ADVI’s contribution to the safe and successful introduction of driverless vehicle technologies into Australia.
Her prior roles include Regional Manager of ARRB Group’s South Australian office, managing key strategic policy projects for State Road Authorities and organisations responsible for public and private road infrastructure.
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