Limited tests of driverless cars are already happening today and they’ll be in use everywhere within six years, according to Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault Nissan Alliance. A change on that scale would reach far beyond the automotive industry to upend businesses, transform our daily lifestyles and reshape cities.
Even if the skeptics are right and the technology necessary for full level-five autonomy develops more slowly, the revolution could still claim many victims.
Bikes and buses
In a future where anyone is able to summon a cheap driverless pod at the click of a smartphone button, the line between public and private transport would start to blur. People use ride hailing apps instead of taking the train, driving, cycling or even walking. Removing human drivers from the equation could make those services even more affordable and convenient compared with trains or buses following fixed routes. Dwindling passenger numbers could ultimately starve public transit of investment.
In the US people often fly between or even within states, but autonomous technology could make car journeys a more pleasant and productive alternative. The impact could be similar to Japan’s bullet trains, which diverted passengers away from airlines.
“Air travel in North America isn’t really good – the airports suck, the airlines are horrible,” said Ali Izadi-Najafabadi, an intelligent mobility analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “In a driverless car you could read a book, watch a movie and do other fun stuff.”
Today more than 90% of road accidents are caused by human error, so once you take people out of the equation safety will probably improve, said David Williams, technical director at insurer AXA SA.
Initially, there could be two types of insurance – one for manual cars and one for autonomous – with premiums for the latter eventually falling as much as 50%, Williams said.
Cloud-connected vehicles with advanced computer brains won’t just drive themselves, they’ll be able to communicate with other cars, traffic signals or emergency services. Even if the number of cars on the road increases, these systems could speed up city traffic and reduce jams by rerouting flows away from accidents or repricing toll routes.
Some of the most hated people on the planet may soon find themselves out of work. If shared driverless cars constantly patrol the streets awaiting a ride before returning for storage in centralised depots, rather than parking on the street, there’ll be little need for parking enforcement officers.
Auto repair shops may grow to hate the sight of autonomous battery-powered cars, on the rare occasions they actually encounter them. Many of the common repairs for gasoline-powered vehicles –replacing spark plugs or engine oil – simply won’t be needed for electric motors. They’ll still have tires and brakes that suffer wear and tear, but the lack of a combustion engine makes a big difference. — Bloomberg