Autonomous Driving: The self-driving car race
Autonomous driving is the most disruptive emerging technology in the automotive industry. Originally developed for aerospace and (sub)marine applications, this long-awaited technology will change mobility as we know it, transforming ownership, usage and design of vehicles. By impacting on business and drivers, it is expected that autonomous driving will renew the dynamics of the automotive ecosystem.
Since the first radio-controlled automobile was exhibited in New York City in 1925, innovators and automakers have been working tirelessly towards full autonomous vehicles. First used successfully in aerospace engineering and submarine programs, AVs will bring more variations to the market than it has seen over the past half-century. However, despite these technological advances many barriers to AVs remain. There is still a long to go in establishing industry standards and legal frameworks, not to mention changing public perceptions of AVs in light of recent tragic incidents.
Today, whilst automakers push towards full autonomy, we can find partial autonomy on the market in the form of advanced driver assistance systems. The future car will be autonomous, but when will it become an everyday reality?
SAFETY, URBANIZATION & BREAKTHROUGH TECHNOLOGIES: THE DRIVING FORCES BEHIND AD
After years of development, the autonomous driving race has finally caught up to speed. Technological developments have allowed for the realisation of autonomous vehicles. Additionally, a survey conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute, “customer’s willingness to pay and declining prices have contributed to this technology’s proliferation”. The growth of AVs is significant: between 2014 and 2016, the number of ADAS systems increased globally from 90 million units to 140 million. Just Lastly notes that disruptive automotive technologies (autonomous mobility, ride-sharing models) have largely been well received by the public, encouraging companies to push autonomous development.
Many have seen the potential benefits of AVs, and these are further driving autonomous technologies. One is efficiency. Travel behavior is changing worldwide, especially in urban areas. Urbanization, pollution levels and traffic jams could improve because of the impact of AVs in the future. Improved road safety is another potential positive: AVs are expected to drastically reduce the number of road fatalities, of which 90% are caused by human error.
BARRIERS TO SELF-DRIVING CARS
The industry still has many challenges to overcome before cars with full self-driving capabilities hit the road. Experts worry that humans will rely too much on the new systems, several studies have shown that drivers tend to carry out activities that would not allow them to take control of the vehicle in an emergency. In addition, the software and hardware needed to release a Level 5 driverless vehicle are still in development. Full autonomy has encountered many barriers that make it nearly impossible to meet all technical requirements in the near future.
The regulatory framework is one of the most critical challenges that the industry is facing. The automotive sector and regulators are trying to solve legal issues such as liability, cyber security, responsibility for insurance, property protection or data privacy.
Even though it is expected that prices will drop as autonomous driving becomes more popular, most ADAS features are part of an optional package and many car owners decide not to pay out this extra cost.
Public perception is the final, and highly significant, barrier. According to the American Automobile Association “73% of American drivers reported they would be too afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle and 63 percent of U.S. adults reported they would actually feel less safe sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle while walking or riding a bicycle”. Overcoming these fears is of paramount importance to AV adoption.
POSITIVE EFFECTS ON MOBILITY
Autonomous vehicles will certainly change mobility. The tech-industry, the transportation models, the use of public and private space, the insurance sector or the cities will go through significant transformations. Although we cannot predict precisely how this transition will affect us, driverless cars have the potential to improve society:
SAFETY. AVs will probably reduce road traffic deaths and injuries.
REDUCED TRAFFIC JAMS. Self-driving cars could reduce traffic congestion. The University of Illinois researchers have found that controlling the pace of the autonomous car in their experiments; they were able to ease the traffic flow.
REDUCED COMMUTING TIMES. It is believed that AVs will save commuters 50mins per day. Besides the minimized traffic congestions, they will be able to work, read or watch a movie in the car.
NEW MOBILITY MODELS. Taxis, ride-hailing services, and public transportation systems will use autonomous driving technology, which could lead to a more efficient and affordable transit network. It is almost certain that people will mainly ride in shared autonomous vehicles, not owned.
MOBILITY FOR NON DRIVERS. AVs will improve access to transportation and increase independence. Non-drivers such as seniors or people with disabilities could travel in an easier way.
LESS POLLUTION. The Future of Driving report from Ohio University states: “Since software will drive the car, the modern vehicle can now be programmed to reduce emissions to the maximum extent possible. The transition to the new-age cars is expected to contribute to a 60% fall in emissions.”
PARKING SPACE. The above-mentioned report also claims that “impact of driverless cars is that such cars can be parked in 15% less space (…) Urban areas facing acute space shortage will gain from the transition to driverless cars.”
COMFORT. Self-driving cars could improve the quality of our travel experiences with restructured car interiors.
NEW BUSINESS MODELS. Autonomous driving will change the job landscape, while many positions will disappear, others will be created. Governments must take this into account and smooth out this transition.
FASTER DEVELOPMENT OF CONSUMER ELECTRONICS. Self-driving technology will speed up the birth of new applications (sensors, GPSs, image recognition…).
WHO IS LEADING THE AUTONOMOUS DRIVING RACE?
Waymo sits at least a year ahead of the competition. It has run over 5 million road miles in 25 cities and completed billions of miles in simulations. In 2019 Waymo will begin commercial service of its vans in a pilot program and its partnership with Honda could focus on logistics and deliveries. GM’s Chevy Bolt has also made significant progress and can navigate San Francisco at speeds of 25mph and it’s believed that the Softbank’s involvement with Uber and Didi Chuxing will benefit the company.
In Europe, Daimler has been working closely with Robert Bosch and NVIDIA to develop its autonomous vehicles. At present Daimler’s V-Class vans can achieve level 4 and level 5 autonomy. However, Daimler’s target date for autonomous vehicles is set to be after 2020, with vehicles with level 3 autonomy as an option for vehicles sold from 2021. Audi and BMW are also key players. Audi’s A8 is currently the most autonomous car on the market. It is partnered with NVIDIA, and plans to put level 4 autonomous cars on the market in 2021. BMW has a fleet of 40 autonomous vehicles and is partnered with Intel, with similar plans to put autonomous vehicles on the market in 2021.
The SCOUT geomap shows where the headquarters of companies are located.
From 2020 to 2030 the autonomous vehicle market is expected to expand, reaching $65.3 billion by 2027. It is not likely that we will see autonomous vehicles enter the commercial market until at least 2020, with real market progress being made from 2025.
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