Part 4: Diminishing Roadblocks: The Journey to Autonomous Vehicles
With 89% of city planners expecting driverless cars to commercialize by 20251, the large-scale rollout of autonomous vehicles is just around the bend, propelled by innovative advances in technology and pushing cities to explore new infrastructure solutions.
We see driverless cars as the most exhilarating industry innovation since, well, the car. Car brands view autonomous vehicles (AV) as a way to win back the thinning budgets of increasingly resistant consumers. Cities are counting on robo-cars to mitigate the crushing gridlock brought by urban growth. Tech companies are lining up and diving into product development, with some using automation as an onramp into a massive new market. Meanwhile, 78% of Americans believe that driverless cars could make their lives easier2, embracing the daydream of being whisked from home to the office to the seaside—and back again.
Vehicle automation extends beyond private cars and into shared mobility services, urban transportation, and freight, making the potential benefits of a driverless future staggering.
Saving Time, Money, and Lives
When comparing the vehicle utilization rate to car ownership and maintenance costs, the cost-per-use for a car can quickly add up. For the car owner, a shared self-driving car model could be 40-70% cheaper than traditional car ownership3. The benefits don’t stop there: autonomous car technology could lead to fewer emissions and fewer road accidents4.
Tomorrow, driverless cars could move us toward an increase in shared mobility, where robo-taxis are in constant use, informed by big data and artificial intelligence. Instead of commuters waiting in traffic or searching for parking, they’ll be driven on efficient routes guided by optimized mapping technology.
Driverless Utopia or Street-Clogging Frenzies?
To arrive in a driverless utopia, carmakers, tech companies and cities are collaborating to deliver the reality of robo-cars. But the autonomous vehicle revolution could spin out of control without government regulation, data-sharing protocols and standardized infrastructures. If driverless cars become too affordable, they could flood the roads, constantly circling and bidding for our attention through smartphone notifications.
Thankfully, driverless vehicle innovation isn’t going to happen all at once. It could take a few decades before our cities and highways have the infrastructure to manage fully autonomous vehicles. The product development and city infrastructure required to accommodate the demands of self-driving technology are vast. Over the next 10 years, it’s estimated to cost each OEM $1 billion in R&D to fully bring autonomous vehicles to market5, and will likely require several partnerships or acquisitions with technology partners. In the meantime, some autonomous features are gradually being integrated into our vehicles, familiarizing consumers with autonomy while providing time for the technology to be refined. On the long path to autonomy, OEMs, tech companies and governments should be able to hammer out the new rules of an equitable road, adapted to the needs of local users on a city-by-city basis.
Tech Enables Rapid Innovation
Massive technology entrants are speeding-up the timeline for getting driverless cars on the road. Consumers are showing confidence in tech companies entering the scene, with over two-thirds of consumers preferring that their traditional OEM partner with a major tech company for autonomous vehicle technology development. Through hyper-rapid iteration, some tech companies are able to produce learnings that would otherwise take years.
The developers behind the testing iterate countless real-life scenarios that are produced in a simulated environment to teach the cars how to respond. Essentially, the car’s software is powered by artificial intelligence, learning behaviors and scenarios in order to make operational decisions on the road. The sheer scalability of the number of tests that are run in an incubator is rapidly improving how quickly the technology of the car can progress; these numbers are exponentially higher than the amount of tests that traditional auto manufacturers can produce in real-life situations alone.
OEMs Provide Fleets
The usefulness of self-driving technology testing can only be realized when paired with a car. For car brands, partnering with technology companies is a way to quickly adapt to new technology. Many OEMs are already testing ideas for commercializing autonomous services, albeit with several strategic questions and risks around controlling this interface, access to customers, and liabilities in case of accidents.
The Winding Roads and Regulations of Autonomous Vehicles
OEMs and technology developers are refining the right solutions, and cities and public institutions are beginning to maintain control over the path to test on the open road. Autonomous vehicles are new products, and cities are the gatekeepers to protecting public safety and the future of urban design. The AV engineering developments are happening at lightning speed, and both cities and private institutions must keep up.
Initial efforts have been made to this end by the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Germany’s Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt), and SAE International. A step in the direction of regulation, the organizations have developed systems for identifying the autonomy level of a vehicle. For example, on a scale of 0-5, a car that is rated a "0" has driver assistance, a "3" indicates partial automation, and a "5" represents full automation.
Mobility’s New Drivers
OEMs, governments, cities and tech companies are carrying us into the Future of Mobility. The promised benefits of reduced congestion, accessibility, and safety of autonomous vehicles can only be fully achieved if continued innovation is coupled with carefully managed regulation and policies.
1.Source: Boston Consulting Group, 2016; 2.Source: Volvo, 2016; 3.Source: Boston Consulting Group, 2016; 4.Source: Boston Consulting Group, BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, 2016; 5. Source: Boston Consulting Group, 2015