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Beyond Technology

Doctoral thesis defence

Understanding societal impacts of implementing self-driving vehicle systems on road transport

Time: Thu 2024-06-13 14.00

Location: F3 (Flodis), Lindstedtsvägen 26 & 28, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: Engelska

Participating: Respondent: Erik Almlöf, Opponent: Assoc. Prof. Zia Wadud, University of Leeds

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During the last decade, self-driving vehicles have become a major topic of interest, promising to transform transport by making travel safer and more efficient. However, as we move closer to making these vehicles a reality, it has become clear that introducing them into society might not be as straightforward as once thought, and there are growing doubts about the benefits they are supposed to offer.

In this thesis, I investigate the societal impacts of self-driving vehicles by exploring four aspects: reasons for researching self-driving vehicles, how these vehicles could be implemented, the societal impacts of fully implementing self-driving vehicles, and their relationship to sustainability goals.

I find that the motivation for researching this topic is often opaque, and the existence of the technology itself is used as a justification for more research. 

Furthermore, most research into realising self-driving vehicles focuses on purely technical aspects such as designing better algorithms. However, I show that many challenges remain connected to the sociotechnical intertwinement of self-driving vehicles. For instance, I illustrate how they will interact with pedestrians and how services using self-driving vehicles would be practically organised.

Additionally, self-driving vehicles are likely to impact many aspects of society, such as congestion, accessibility, and economic factors. However, I demonstrate that no single framework successfully captures all the identified societal impacts, which are likely to depend on diverse factors such as geographical variations.

The impacts further affect sustainability, where new challenges are likely to emerge. I show that while current tools to govern the transport system are still relevant, a comprehensive approach is needed to ensure that policymakers make well-considered decisions. 

In conclusion, I call for a more balanced view of self-driving vehicles. Introducing this new technology requires careful planning and governance to ensure that self-driving vehicle systems genuinely enhance our quality of life and help build a sustainable future.