This guest blog post was written by Jaclyn Longo, an Analyst at Propel. Propel is located at Western University and is part of the Campus-Linked Accelerator (CLA) program. The centre provides co-working space, mentorship, seed funding, events and acts as an advocate for local youth-based (aged 18-29) startups in the community. For more info, visit the Propel website.
The 20th century was shaped and characterized by the mainstream adoption of the automobile, which drastically changed the lives of humans. The automobile has helped to shape the modern world and plays a huge role in our society. It is believed that the 21st century will see widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles (AVs). The shift to autonomous or driverless vehicles is bound to have a similar effect on the world as the automobile did when it was first introduced. These changes are difficult to comprehend and one can only predict the impact AVs will have on our lives.
The switch to fully automated vehicles will not happen overnight but we are already seeing an increase in vehicles with automated features. The introduction of features such as, automatic transmission, cruise control, self-parking cars, blinds spot assist and lane departure warnings, among others are making todays automobiles safer and introducing automation to the masses. The race to build fully autonomous vehicles has already begun and the value in car making has begun to shift from hardware to software. Everyone from major car manufactures, tech giants and start-ups are racing to build the car of the future. Google, Tesla and car manufactures, such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, & Volvo, have begun experimenting with fully automated vehicles and University of Michigan recently opened MCity, an educational and experimental city set up solely for testing self-driving cars.
Prior to cars, traveling was an expensive, lengthy and dangerous process. AVs will further revolutionize travel and make it even more accessible. Drivers will no longer have to focus on the road, allowing better time utilization by eating, working and sleeping all on the go. We will no longer be confined by our commutes.
The current utilization rate for the average car is 4%, meaning that it sits parked somewhere for most of its life. Most experts believe AVs will make car ownership a thing of the past and current growing popularity of car and ride sharing programs supports this theory.
AVs will free up precious space and resources. Cars will be able to drive closer together and at a steady pace, making roads better utilized and increasing fuel efficiencies. AVs will be able to provide data on the most traveled routes and roads; allowing cars to respond to traffic conditions and take alternate routes to help alleviate high traffic areas. As passengers will be able to better utilize commuting, commuting times will likely shift, and rush hour could become a thing of the past.
Experts predict that we will see an increase in nighttime driving, as people and goods travel overnight in AVs. Goods will be transported faster, since automated trucks will not need to take breaks the way human drivers must. Spaces previously used for parking cars will be freed up and reassigned for other use. Less parked cars in cities will increase the number of lanes available, reducing traffic. It will also open up space for bike lanes, larger sidewalks, and more public parks, hopefully making the cities of the future more pedestrian friendly and promoting healthy lifestyle choices.
Experts predict that AVs will be more environmentally friendly. Driverless cars will drive at steady speeds, brake less and drive in fleets which will reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. As electronic cars develop and gain popularity, it is believed that the fleets of AVs will be electronic, further improving their environmental friendliness. A Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory study found, if all taxis and self driving cars were electric, we would see a 94% reduction in emissions. Electronic cars have the benefit of longer life expectancies, require less maintenance, and are cheaper than the traditional combustion engine.
It is believed that AVs will greatly improve the safety of our roads and according to McKinsey, self-driving cars will reduce the number of accidents by 90%. It is believed that car crashes will become so rare, that it will be shocking when they do happen, and much like plane crashes today they will make international news and lead to in-depth investigations.
Safer cars will reduce the number of auto accidents, saving lives and preventing injuries. With the adoption of AVs we could see a decrease in healthcare spending as less people are injured in car accidents. This could free up precious healthcare dollars for our aging population and the treatment of chronic diseases. A decrease in car crash victims however, will severely decrease our supply of human donor organs, which will put pressure on finding sustainable donor organ solutions such as 3D printed organs.
AVs will eliminate accidents due to human error. These computerized vehicles cannot get tired or distracted as they are unable to drive drunk, or talk and text on a cell phone, making them safer than human drivers. Their movements are predetermined and predicable for all other AVs on the road; AVs will shift their driving to accommodate road conditions. Improved safety and a reduction in car accidents will greatly impact the car insurance and repair industries and have the potential to render them virtually useless. A major safety concern, however, is the potential for a cyber attack on AVs. Recently hackers demonstrated using a Jeep how they can remotely take over a cars system. This is a safety threat that will need to be addressed before widespread adoption of AVs occurs and there is potential for the development of an AV security industry.
There are still many unanswered questions and uncertainty surrounding the adoption of AVs. Experts disagree on when in the future adoption will occur. Some believe that it will take over 20 years before AVs become mainstream, while others think that we will be seeing AVs on the road as early as the next three years. A study from the Boston Consulting Group says partially autonomous vehicles will “hit the road in large numbers” by 2017. They believe that more than 12m fully automated vehicles will be sold by 2035.
There are still many technological and policy challenges that need to be overcome before mainstream adoption of AVs can occur. Standardization, insurance and ownership are all things that need to be worked out. AVs will need to have the ability to communicate with one another and sense each other in the same ways, as well as travel at the same speeds and follow each other at a predetermined distance in order for automation to work as envisioned. Ethical concerns also need to be addressed, for example in the unfortunate case of an accident, should AVs be programmed to protect their occupants, pedestrians or try to minimize overall damage?
Driverless vehicles will disrupt industries and replace millions of jobs. There are obvious job losses and industries that will be negatively affected by the adoption of driverless cars, such as the taxi and trucking industries, however what we yet to understand is the ripple effect that this will cause in our economy and society. This change will not happen overnight, but rather it will occur gradually giving people a chance to adapt. Like most disruptive technology, we anticipate new jobs and industries will emerge to support AVs. As the public and private sectors begin to slowly adopt this new technology, we will be able to better predict the impact that driverless vehicles will have on our everyday lives.
The Future is Now: Driverless Cars in Use
There have been some early adopters of autonomous vehicles and it is believed that AVs will be adopted commercially first, before they are adopted by consumers. This is a trend that we have already begun to see, as companies adopt the use of AVs on privately owned roads. The following are examples of early uses of AVs:
Since 2011, Heathrow Airport has been using electric driverless pods to shuttle passengers to and from the terminal to their cars in the parking lot. Heathrow chose to switch out their diesel bus shuttle for these 22 pods, which operate on passenger demand rather than in a continuous loop. The pods use 50% less energy than a bus and can run for 22 hours a day, all without a driver. They can hold up to 4 passengers with their luggage, and travel on a designated roadway at 25 MPH. The average passenger wait time for a pod is less than 10s and the entire trip takes only 5-6 minutes. The pods were cheaper to install than high-speed rail and are currently in review for use in other cities
Suncor is currently piloting driverless trucks for their mines in Northern Alberta. The driverless trucks allow Suncor to cut costs and increase productivity. Many of their competitors have already begun using driverless trucks in their mining operations. Suncor hopes to achieve full automation and replace its fleet with AVs within the next ten years. This is causing concern for those who currently make a living driving these massive vehicles, as automation will result in the loss of over 800 jobs. The oil industry is ripe for early adoption of AVs as these large trucks drive slowly in a private remote environment and have high financial incentive as salaries for drivers averaging $200,000 a year.
Milton Keynes, a town about an hour from London, England, is piloting the use of driverless pods to replace traditional public transportation. The end goal is to have a fleet of 100 electric driverless pods replace the use of busses in Milton Keynes. The pods will travel on a special roadway at 12 MPH and have the capacity to carry two people plus their luggage.