The promise of autonomous vehicles

September 9, 2016 Focus area: Digital Transformation , Continuous Innovation

The benefits of autonomous transport are enormous, we do not want to wait longer for this than necessary. Self-driving cars will save us lots of time, will make transportation safer and faster, empower people with limited mobility and will have a positive impact on the cities we live in.

Millennials will tell their children; “During the start of my career I used to spend 2 hours a day to operate my car back and forth to work. During the daily commute we sometimes made phone calls or enjoyed an audiobook, but in general it was time wasted being stuck in traffic.” In self-driving cars we will be able to use that time productively; we can work, study, relax, watch a movie or even sleep.

While driving, people text their friends, become sleepy, are under the influence of alcohol or just react too late to unexpected moves of other human drivers and thus cause accidents. Through the self-learning ability of a continuously growing fleet, self-driving vehicles will become close to perfect and radically reduce the number of incidents. Today advanced driver assistance systems are already helping to decrease that number.

Together digitally connected vehicles will use roads more efficiently than individually operated cars and trucks and thereby eliminate traffic jams and reduce the time traveled from A to B. It will help us to spend more time at the locations that we want to be.

Our roads, streets and cities will change for the better. We can transform parking spaces in parks and playgrounds. Cars will park themselves in places where they do not bother us. Or they might directly navigate themselves to pick up new passengers.

When cars are fully autonomous, sharing becomes a lot easier. Car owners can generate extra income by sharing their vehicle the 90-99% of the time it used to sit idle on their driveways. Mobility services will further develop and owning will not be logical for most consumers.

Autonomous transport will improve mobility for all of us and especially for the ones who are not able to drive today, like your soccer and piano playing children or your grandmother who is afraid to drive when it is dark. It will help to improve the social lives of the non-mobile elderly, they can go out and visit their busy children and grandchildren.

From that point of view, self-driving cars can be better described as taxis without expensive drivers. This helps to understand the potential future value of on-demand mobility service companies, such as Uber, Lyft and the Chinese Didi Chuxing. The battle for the autonomous mobility market will be an interesting one. Google has been testing self-driving cars for several years, Ford just announced to bring a fully autonomous vehicle without steering wheel or pedals to market by 2021.  Autonomy and sharing are 2 of the 4 pillars of Elon Musk’s master plan part deux for Tesla.

While Ford and other leading car manufacturers compete with incumbents on the technology development, they joined forces on a legal level. In April this year Ford, Uber, Google, Lyft and Volvo formed the ‘Self-driving coalition for safer streets', a lobby group aimed to overcome the (American) regulatory roadblocks.

Fully autonomous transportation of people and goods will not be here tomorrow. There are technological, legal and societal hurdles. However, in a world that continues to digitize and automate the prospect of still manually driving a car to work in 2030 does not seem logical.