It’s 7:30 in the morning. You open an app on your mobile device and summon a driverless car to pick you up for work. As soon as you settle inside the vehicle, the car’s software cues in the route. So you sit back, scroll through your email and prepare mentally for the day. The ride was smooth and swift. You are at your desk by 7:50 AM, still a few minutes early. You have enough time to chat with colleagues before tackling the day’s task. Is this the future of the Self-Driving Car?
Autonomous driving is the future of transportation. And by future, we mean not so distant future. We are already seeing some of these disruptive concepts racing their way to the market. Leading this self-driving car race is Alphabet’s Waymo. A spin-off from Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, Waymo is beating General Motors in this race. With more features and simulations developed for autonomous driving, Uber, Tesla, Toyota, Apple, BMW, Nissan, Honda, and Volvo are not far behind.
Waymo was able to reach a deal to purchase a thousand Chrysler Pacifica minivans by January 2018. These vehicles will be fitted with sensors, allowing them to pick up signals within hundreds of yards at 360 degrees. The company is testing its on-demand driverless cars in urban areas of Arizona, and soon, in Phoenix. Likewise, General Motors is collaborating with Chevrolet and plans to start a ride-hailing company by 2019. Car companies are working with other industries to test the viability of this self-driving car technology. Toyota has been collaborating with e-Palette; Ford is testing driverless delivery with Domino’s Pizza as well as ride-hailing with Lyft.
Future Mobility that is Fast but Not Furious
Driving and owning a car is deeply rooted in the American culture. The country’s automobile industry has survived and thrived for almost a century. Cars have a special place in pop culture and in the entertainment industry. Songs, animations, and movie franchises all play to automobiles and the need for speed, such as Rush’s Red Barchetta. On a personal level, getting your first car is a coming-of-age ritual. Families and friends go on road trips and long drives as a way to bond.
But according to many automotive executives, the future of mobility does not include owning and driving a car. Roads will be teeming with driverless on-demand cars that transport people from point A to point B. The system will be so efficient that owning a car will not be necessary. This takes away the trouble of finding a parking space. Less vehicles also mean decongested roads, allowing faster travel time. When people spend less time on the road, they spend more time on life and self-enriching activities.
Kasra Moshakani (Uber Technologies), agrees with this direction:
“We do think when we think about the future of urban mobility, it’s about shared rides…But self-driving is also a big piece of that. A future where individuals don’t own cars, they don’t spend hours and hours in traffic, they don’t spend and stress while behind the wheel.”
Moreover, Florida District 24 State Senator Jeff Brandes shares his excitement about these developments during the Synapse Innovation Summit. He stated, “The idea that we can go point to point and do that in a seamless, autonomous fashion is going to allow us to save billions of dollars and to leapfrog some of the technologies that are out there today.”
Benefits and Disruptions
The cars of the future will mostly run by electricity, and this will be beneficial on the environment. This means less waste and emissions in the air. Builders can create more residential areas and recreational spots from reclaimed parking spaces. Since the routes have been mapped in the system, car accidents are minimized. Individuals who have visual problems, as well as the elderly and differently abled, will be able to move around using self-driving cars.
Self-driving cars will radically change society globally. It is predicted that driving a car will be phased out. Obviously, jobs related to driving vehicles will vanish. This includes bus and taxi drivers, courier and delivery drivers, lawnmower operators, and tractor drivers. Industries that support automobiles will also feel the disruption. People working in road construction, driving schools, car licensing, and registration will have to consider other industries. Same goes for car rental and sales, car insurance, and traffic and city route planning workers.
The State of the Self-Driving Car
The automobile industry has now gone beyond demonstrating how good the technology is. Car and technology companies have now shifted their focus on the safety of autonomous driving. This is in the light of recent driverless car accidents involving Uber and Tesla.
There is still a lot more work to do. The automobile industry need to reevaluate and readjust the mechanisms involved in self-driving cars. A human driver can perceive the environment at a glance. A self-driving car would need to receive a large amount of data from sensors, tracking systems, and cameras before it can evaluate its environment. This delay will also impact the self-driving car’s decision-making capability. This presents a host of opportunities to improve the current technology.
People can recognize the opportunities if there are more discussions about the topic. Jeff Brandes, Florida State Senator, focuses on policies. He asks, “So what is the policy of the state? How do we get people comfortable with this conversation? How do we get the cities comfortable to allow the deployments in their communities?”
The advent of the automobile was met with reluctance at the beginning of the 20th century. Back then, pedestrians walked alongside wagons and carriages. Cars and automobiles have gone a long way from its challenging beginnings. It is set to undergo another wave of disruption with the introduction of autonomous driving. Car makers create more vehicle models with intelligent capacities. By 2020, we may be seeing cars without steering wheels or gas pedals.