I had planned on attending a keynote by Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, but the government shutdown prevented her and a number of other federal government personnel from attending the CES this year. Disappointed, but I still attended the panel discussion that was slated to follow her remarks.

The panel was led by Reuters reporter, Alexandria Sage, whose assignment is covering the autonomous vehicle space. She was joined by four industry representatives involved in advancing AV technologies, and Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

The discussion centered on the broad topic of how disparate operating systems and technologies would be brought together, as they must be, to complete the dream of the self-driving vehicle. This is not, however, the only impediment to full implementation of the AV dream. Consumers, according to recent surveys, continue to be split roughly 50/50 with half still not comfortable with the idea of a self-driving vehicle. No matter how great the technology is, it will be DOA if consumers do not understand, value, embrace, and ultimately buy it.

Behind the drive to produce self-driving cars is to make roads safer. Hersman cited the 40,000 people, roughly 100 per day, who die in preventable vehicle crashes each year. The assumption is with self-driving cars, the number of deaths will drop. This, of course, depends on the quality of the technology and just how “self-driving” the vehicles really are. 

To that end, many industry interests have banded together to form the Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, PAVE. The mission of PAVE is to inform the public about the potential of self-driving technology. At the same time, at least in my opinion, it will be good for these disparate interests to meet together and talk about the topic in what should be a non-threatening environment. Good things should come from the dialog.

So the take-away for roofing contractors? The same as with every business owner in the country: safer and more efficient roadways. One of the most dangerous jobs in the roofing industry is the sales/estimator who spends copious amounts of time on the road. Imagine a world where, with computer-assisted or completely autonomous vehicles, your insurance rates would go down and your troops, all of them, would spend less time getting from one point to the next.

Keeping up with trends in vehicle technology, I visited a lot of exhibits featuring a number of great innovations. I will report on several of those tomorrow. In the meantime I’m including photos of some zero-emission trucks including one that is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and the others all electric. While these are prototype vehicles, there is one company taking an order for six mid-size trucks this summer as a test operation.

By the way, Hersman will leave the National Safety Council on Monday to assume the role of chief safety officer for Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project that was spun off in 2016 as a separate unit of Google parent, Alphabet. She will become the first CSO for Waymo, which, to me, is a strong statement of their commitment to leading with safety.