Although autonomous vehicles have only recently come into the spotlight, with Tesla and Google being the most prominent names that come to mind, the technological development of self-driving cars has been around for quite a while. The first experiments date back to the 1920s, and by 1986 Mercedes-Benz launched the Eureka Prometheus Project, spending the current equivalent of €749m to develop driverless prototypes.
More And More Players
Today, billions of dollars are being spent by numerous automobile manufacturers and technology companies in a battle to become the first to fully launch autonomous vehicles into the consumer market. In fact, it is likely that your car already includes various features that make it semi-autonomous (from adaptive cruise control to parking assistance), but a fully autonomous vehicle is eagerly awaited.
Driverless cars are becoming a reality – sooner than one might think. The first on-demand driverless taxis were launched in Singapore this August by start-up NuTonomy (founded by two MIT researchers), with Uber launching its self-driving ride-sharing service in Pittsburgh later that month.
Various predictions are being made about when one can expect a driverless society, with the US Secretary of Transportation stating in 2015 that he expects driverless cars to be in use all over the world within the next ten years. According to some sources, Volkswagen is expecting the first self-driving car by 2019, and Google plans to have its driverless cars on the market no later than 2018. Tesla expects its first fully autonomous vehicle by 2018 (approved by 2021), and the list of companies goes on and on.
Involvement Of Transportation Network Companies
Transportation network companies (like Uber) have taken advantage of the innovative technology, enabling the creation of autonomous cars, to create an optimistic vision of changing the structure of the automobile industry from car ownership to car sharing in the long term. For people enthusiastic about car ownership, this concept is quite hard to imagine.
Uber has come together with Volvo, with the companies agreeing to an investment of $300m to create autonomous cars where Uber itself will be developing the systems to add to a Volvo base vehicle. Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, has made it clear that he expects Uber’s fleet to be driverless by 2030, anticipating that the service will then become so inexpensive and abundant that car ownership will become out-dated.
With Uber’s vision to use autonomous electric cars (meaning they are cheaper to run per mile and of course there is no driver to take an 80% share of the revenue), it is clear why the service will become very inexpensive.
A report from McKinsey & Company suggested that up to one out of ten cars sold in 2030 could potentially be a shared vehicle. Uber is not the only transportation network player in this industry, though. Lyft has partnered with General Motors for a $500m investment, and it plans on launching a line of autonomous electric vehicles.
Changes To Safety
There is, however, a long way until regulations are clarified, although many predictions are being made about how autonomous vehicles could lead to fewer deaths. For example, KPMG estimates 2500 fewer deaths in the UK between 2014 and 2030 as a result of self-driving cars.
Predictions like this are certainly being used by leading players in this industry as a way of justifying any accidents that occur involving their autonomous cars. Nevertheless, according to America’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, human error does play a role in 94% of accidents today.
With the future of a driverless society, one thing is clear: liability rules will have to be carefully created by regulators and insurance companies.