What will a world of self-driving cars look like?

What will a world of self-driving cars look like?

With tech firms and manufacturers pushing the boundaries of what is possible and predictions for when driverless cars will arrive reducing with each passing day, it looks like we are on the verge of a revolution in road transportation – the likes of which has not been seen since the introduction of the internal combustion engine. What will a world where autonomous cars are ubiquitous look like and how will it affect the way we live? In this blog, we paint a picture of what our self-driving future might look like.

“Where we’re going, we don’t need any roads”

At least not in the form we currently have them. Much of our road infrastructure is currently built around safely guiding and managing human operated vehicles. White lines, speed limit signs, traffic lights and roadwork warnings could all become irrelevant in the face of connected vehicles negotiating road space using Artificial Intelligence and using GPS to navigate. Roads could be designed to blend in with the scenery –  completely changing the look and feel of urban areas and the countryside.

You won’t own a car

Whilst many debate on whether someone would buy a self-driving car, the reality is autonomous vehicles will likely see a shift away from traditional ownership models toward on demand service models. This is because, unlike traditional cars, which spend 90% of their life parked – autonomous vehicles will be able to operate continuously, picking up and dropping off various passengers during the day.

This kind of operation is ideally suited to ride hailing apps and fleet operators, who will be able to give you access to a vehicle when you need it. Indeed, companies like Uber will likely have thousands of autonomous vehicles on the road before traditional drivers start making the decision to give up their cars.

In the long run, we will likely subscribe to mobility as a service, rather than paying monthly for access to one vehicle as we do now. These monthly contracts will allow you to access different forms depending on your situation, including self-driving cars. This could reduce the number of the cars on the road overall, as well as reducing the need for carparks, which can be used for green spaces or housing.

Your commute will be much more interesting

With London drivers wasting more than 100 hours a year in gridlock, contributing to a UK average of 30 hours spent in delays it’s clear that the drive to a from work could be used more productively by many. Driving as a hobby may persist, but many people will likely welcome the chance to kick back and relax on their way home whilst their car takes care of the more mundane stuff like congestion and parking.

This could release thousands of man hours of productive work time – or simply allow people to use their smart phones without risk to other road users.

Autonomy will go beyond the realm of traditional cars

Self-driving cars are likely to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the autonomous vehicles which will become commonplace. Autonomous buses, trucks and freight vehicles travelling by rail or sea, as well as un-manned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are all likely to become commonplace. “Last mile” vehicles will also likely become a feature of everyday life. These short-range vehicles will carry you around enclosed spaces like airports or take you from the train to your final destination in a city.

The electric future

Electric vehicle (EV) technology is ideally suited to connected and autonomous driving, where efficiency can be optimised and vehicles can charge themselves when they are not carrying a passenger. Also, given that many autonomous vehicles can be in operation far more frequently that traditional cars, the reduction in moving parts and therefore need for maintenance makes Electric drivetrains an ideal bedfellow for autonomy. Expect to see a massive growth in EVs on the road once autonomy becomes commonplace, leading to localised reduction of pollution and noise – and an increased pressure on the power grid!

We will talk to our cars

The development of autonomous vehicles will likely be combined with developments in the way we interact with technology elsewhere. Personal assistants on smartphones are already commonplace and developments in Artificial Intelligence are moving in parallel with autonomous technology.

Vital to the success of self-driving cars will be their accessibility to everyone regardless of age, health or disability. This probably means natural language processing will become a key feature of self-driving vehicles- you won’t have to know how to operate these vehicles, you will simply have to tell them where you want to go.

We will be a lot safer

90% of accidents on the road are caused by human error. A staggering 1.25million deaths happen on roads around the world every year. Self-driving cars will mitigate many of the causes of these accidents. For instance, an autonomous driving system will not become distracted by their smart phone, drive under the influence of alcohol or fall asleep at the wheel. Removing the drivers from cars will likely make roads a much safer place.

The big questions

Like the smartphone, autonomous vehicles have the potential to completely change the way we live with many more unexpected consequences than are listed here. Will we travel more? Will autonomy make us lazy? Will we trust those who currently cannot drive, like our children, to travel in these vehicles alone?  Will they be 100% safe and how will this effect insurance and repair industries? Will professional drivers become a thing of the past?

Many of these questions go unanswered, even as the technology speeds towards us. What is clear is that we will need a shared vision going forward if we are reap all the potential benefits of this technology and avoid the pitfalls. The Transport Systems Catapult’s Technology Strategy takes a first step towards this goal, looking to bring together academia, government and industry to create clear roadmaps towards new transport technologies like autonomous vehicles. As dialogue shifts from “if” to “when” the question we should be asking is do we want this self-driving revolution to be done to us, or do we want to be leaders who define the outcome?

Find out more about the Transport Systems Catapult at www.tsctechstrategy.co.uk

You can find author Simon White on LinkedIn

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