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Autonomous Cars Will Change the Insurance World

With all of the vehicle testing and prospects of lower accident rates, those in the insurance industry are bracing for big changes ahead.

(TNS) -- DES MOINES — As his vehicle took a turn in “aggressive mode,” Josh Whitley’s hands hovered near the steering wheel but never touched it. The car, an autonomous research development vehicle from AutonomouStuff, didn’t need Whitley’s help.

Earlier in the day, Whitley had driven the vehicle — a red, modified Lincoln MKZ — around a pre-defined track in Water Works Park here. Along the way, he dropped digital breadcrumbs so the vehicle could learn the path it would soon take as Whitley showed off the technology to attendees of this year’s Global Insurance Symposium.

AutonomouStuff’s vehicle is a current-day signal of autonomous car technology making its way to the market. While cars that can completely drive themselves may be years away, the effect on the insurance industry will come soon rather than later, Whitley and others said Thursday.

“When we do automated testing of vehicles, we’re looking at data on the order of about four terabytes a day from each vehicle. … If you are looking to gather that data from your customers — and I would argue that they have incentive to give you that data — you’re going to have to set up a serious infrastructure to handle that much data collection,” Whitley said during a symposium panel.

While hype has revolved around cars that can completely drive themselves, current and evolving safety technology will reduce car accidents significantly before that milestone is reached, said Guy Fraker, chief learning officer for Morton, Ill.-based AutonomouStuff.

“The impact on the insurance industry is going to come long before full autonomy is widely adopted, simply because you don’t need full autonomy to eliminate — pick a number, 80, 85 percent — of the accidents that occur out there,” Fraker said.

Panelists also noted that the Midwest, including Iowa, already has ties to autonomous vehicle research, even if much of the attention is coming out of Silicon Valley. For example, agriculture has been one of the main industries investigating the technology since the 1990s, Whitley said.

Iowa officials also have increased attention on the emerging technology and the role the state can play in developing it. The University of Iowa has the National Advanced Driving Simulator, which researches vehicle safety technology.

“Iowa is the center of the universe for many of the technologies that are coming out today,” said Daniel McGehee, the director of the NADS.

The Iowa Department of Transportation also has contracted with a mapping company, HERE, to create high-definition digital maps of along Interstate 380 between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. That same corridor also has been designated an official proving ground for autonomous technology by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

©2017 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.