The Future of Autonomous Vehicles
The autonomous vehicle is set to be as life-changing as the invention of the motor vehicle itself.
April 10, 2019, Mandla Reissmann
The autonomous vehicle is set to be as life-changing as the invention of the motor vehicle itself. Modern day cities have been shaped largely by the mobility that is achieved through motor vehicles, providing transport services to people and goods alike and supported by major road networks worldwide. Up until recently, the motor vehicle has been an extension of the human ambulatory system, docile to the drivers’ commands.
The Future of Autonomous Vehicles
The Intelligent Vehicle Grid
Advances in communication, controls and embedded systems now pave the way for the intelligent vehicle grid. A car is now a formidable sensor platform absorbing information from the environment and other cars feeding it to drivers and infrastructure to assist in safe navigation, pollution control and traffic management.
Blood and Vessels
It is easy to draw the analogy of road networks being similar to the blood vessels of our cities, giving rise to mobility and a measure of autonomy to the individual who can drive from place to place and carry out societal needs and wants.
Autonomous vehicles are an innovation that will make the flow of the “blood” in the “vessels” far more effective, efficient and safe.
Improving the Current Automotive Transport System
The need for autonomous vehicles is supported by some astonishing statistics of the hugely wasteful and dangerous current automotive transportation system.
There about 1 million deaths per year on the roads worldwide which translates to a fatality roughly every 30 seconds, and 90% of the time due to human error. A fully autonomous vehicle has the potential to reduce this amount because it would eliminate human fallibilities in driving such as driver inattention, speeding, alcohol impairment, perceptual errors, decision errors and driver incapacitation.
Other issues addressed by autonomous vehicles are the fact that 40% of gasoline in urban areas is used finding parking. On top of that, personal cars are unused 95% of their lifespan and only 5% of freeways operate at maximum efficiency. Autonomous cars mitigate these issues by reducing accidents by 90%, by saving fuel and time, and reducing congestion and parking utilisation.
The need for change is therefore obvious, even from just the safety perspective.
The Intelligent Grid Vehicle Cloud
“Intelligent grid” of autonomous cars was pioneered by the Google car.
The grid goes beyond the improvements autonomous vehicles bring to the table and brings to light the idea of a distributed transport fabric capable of making its own decisions about driving customers and goods to their destinations. The idea is similar to the Internet of Things (IoT), hinging on a vehicle network (vehicle cloud) capable of communications, storage, intelligence and learning capabilities (AI and Big Data).
In addition, sharing and “gig” economies applied to vehicle usage can be paired with all the advantages of autonomous vehicle technology to create economic value and streamline the transportation system that exists already in road infrastructure.
The “vehicle cloud” adds another dimension to this, made possible by networked intelligence where communication and self-organising are possible between vehicles. Increased freeway utilisation through, for example, “car platooning” where vehicles can cooperate and form groups while driving, minimizing the distance between vehicles in a platoon while matching speeds automatically and using less space while travelling predictably in ways that human drivers never could.
Inter-vehicle communication will also be able to help with minimizing fuel used finding parking spaces and give the vehicle cloud the ability to learn from data gathered about driving patterns.
There are some drawbacks to autonomous cars although pale in comparison to the improvements that are on the horizon. These include unemployment of skilled workers (taxi drivers and truck drivers), expensive technology (lidar car systems), reduced taxes and insurance collection, functional dependency (A.I.) and the debate on new laws and legislation linked to the new technology. It does seem, however, that these drawbacks are not enough to stop the research and development already underway.
Driver’s License Obsolete?
In the next few years, the main players – Tesla, Nissan, Toyota, Audi, Google, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Volvo are preparing to launch autonomous vehicles with an emphasis on electrification of cars as well. This means that the driver’s license may be approaching obsolete status along with the classic “hot rod gas guzzlers” sporting oversized diesel and gasoline engines currently being outperformed by electric cars across the board (with the exception of range).
The future of automobile transport is tightly linked to communications technology (IoT) and the sharing economy to boost efficiency and safety in an unprecedented way.
We can expect major changes in the next 10-20 years in the way our roads and transport services are operated with new avenues for value creation in transport as a service and major upgrades in safety and efficiency.
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