Director, Transportation Systems Analysis, Center for Automotive Research (CAR)
Research conducted by Richard Wallace and colleagues at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) suggests the automotive industry is on the brink of a new technological revolution that will result in self-driving vehicles, and that any company that doesn’t adapt may find itself lagging behind and perhaps even worse as new competitors emerge. After all, the car companies of the last 50 years do not have to be those of the next 50, Wallace says. “When’s the last time you used Kodak film? We don’t buy mainframe computers from IBM anymore, either. We’re trying to avoid the dinosaur situation.”
PASSION FOR TECH
Wallace’s work focuses on the increasing reliance on communications technology for driving. “It took a while for the right technologies to exist to make it happen. Your vehicle had no connection to its surroundings other than the four tires on the road for pretty much the history of the automobile since Henry Ford. Now, you take self-driving vehicles … they will have a technical performance that’s better than what you or I can do. Take safety — and those chain-reaction car crashes. If vehicles and the roadway were connected through communications and the head vehicle in a line of cars hits the brakes hard, I don’t have to wait for the chain reaction to happen and perhaps hit the car in front of me. I can get the message ‘hit the brakes now.’”
VIEW FROM THE TOP
“We are the Motor City, and the auto industry is a critical component of the Michigan economy. As motor vehicle technology evolves, it really behooves us to lead in the area of self-driving vehicles. As a nonprofit, CAR is here to help with that mission.”
Wallace previously worked for the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute and Intelligent Transportation Systems Lab before joining CAR. In those two roles, his worked focused on the evaluation of several of the first intelligent transportation systems field tests in Michigan.
Wallace came to U-M to work on a doctoral degree in urban and regional planning after earning a master’s degree in technology and science policy at Georgia Institute of Technology and an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at Northwestern University. He is also a board member of the Intelligent Transportation Society of Michigan.
VOICE OF EXPERIENCE
“My group within the Center for Automotive Research exists in large part to increase transportation safety. We have tremendous carnage on the roadway. We used to have in the range of 40,000 roadway fatalities every year in the U.S. Now, we’re down to 32,000 or so, but that’s still a lot. The No. 1 cause of death for people ages 4 to 33 is traffic fatalities. If self-driving vehicles work out the way we see it, they’re going to eliminate a lot of those fatalities. If you take a 70-mph crash to a 10-mph crash because you manage to pre-brake, you don’t get the fatalities. In Sweden, they call it Vision Zero; they’d like to get to zero traffic fatalities. We should set similar goals.”
— Interviewed by Ilene Wolff