The road to self-driving cars will be gradual, with various stages and milestones that need to be reached. Currently, the timeline is assisted driving in 2016, automated driving in 2021 and fully automated cars by 2025.
Why do we need self-driving cars?
A bigger question though is, why the move to self-driving cars? There are a number of key reasons why these cars need to be considered. In my opinion, the most crucial are: increasing levels of congestion and the rise in urbanisation, the need to reduce the number of road deaths and the associated costs, increasing pollution levels and changes in car ownership. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Congestion is a huge drain on the economy. In the US alone people are spending over 43 hours per year in traffic jams, time which could certainly be better spent. In many major cities, the average speed of journeys is in decline and in some cities it is below that of a hundred years ago when people used the horse and cart. Also, research has shown that over 30% of driving in cities is simply to find a parking space, another process that technology can automate or that ‘un-owned’ driverless cars could alleviate. Tomorrow’s self-driving car could drop passengers off and then collect new passengers, reducing the number of vehicles on the road at any one time while also reducing the need for parking spaces.
Today these are approximately 1.2 million road deaths worldwide. Depending on the country, the costs of cleaning up road accidents can be anything from 2% to 10% of GDP. The EU has already set a target for reducing fatalities throughout the continent by 50% by 2025. This will have a huge positive impact on GDP and will enable more money to be spent on upgrading road networks and installing smart infrastructures. Recent research by The Boston Consulting Group has suggested the technologies such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) could save thousands of lives and about $251 billion each year if widely adopted.
Air pollution is now amongst the highest causes of death throughout the world, especially in lower income economies. We only have to look at cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Delhi to see what draconian methods are being used in order to limit pollution – the use of cars on alternate days and removing older less efficient cars through payments to owners, for example. Diesel cars are increasingly coming under threat because of the high level of particulate output causing respiratory problems. As a result, China is now putting a priority on electrification of vehicles to get control of the inner-city pollution levels.
A report by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America projects that autonomous and connected cars could achieve a 2% to 4% reduction in oil consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions each year over the next 10 years as these technologies infiltrate the market. In truth, the only way to truly decarbonize the transportation system is to move to a low-carbon fuel or completely battery-powered vehicles. However, until that day arrives, autonomous and connected cars will enable us to bring the levels of pollution down.
Car ownership amongst city-based millennials is also dropping off and the cachet (perceived prestige) of car ownership is less prevalent, except in certain emerging markets. If car use is analysed, we can see that they are typically only used for less than one hour a day. That’s 23 hours of insurance, depreciation and cost that is sitting outside on the drive or in the office car park. New companies are entering the scene, such as Uber, BlaBlaCar and Lyft who are offering the kind of cost-per-mile that makes owning a car seem expensive.
All of these points are being addressed at government level and through self-driving cars; we can find viable solutions.
next; How does the self-driving car help?