Where to Next for Self-Driving Vehicles?Tia Winter | 23 February 2018
In the past few years there has been a lot of talk about autonomous or self-driving vehicles. While we are yet to see a mainstream movement towards self-driving vehicles, there has been significant momentum towards building a society where cars are safer, less expensive to run and completely autonomous. The push is coming from the ride-share and food delivery industry where taking the driver out of the equation means increased profits across the board.
In 2016, we saw the biggest movement towards building a self-drive society. In the US, GM spent $1 billion acquiring Cruise Automation, a start-up company specialising in self-driving technology. In August last year, Uber spent $680 million on a self-driving truck called Otto. Then there is the $39 billion takeover of Qualcomm’s NXP Semiconductors, the essential ingredient for self-driving technology. What was once the domain of futuristic games and Sci Fi fantasy is becoming reality, and soon we may have a lot more time to focus on playing our favourite mobile casino games, sending emails, watching movies, or simply just relaxing while we are ferried from A to B.
From Concept to Road
From a more practical standpoint, Uber started testing out their new self-driving Volvo with customers able to hail a ride in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile in Singapore, NuTonomy started offering driverless rides. The initial phase included a test driver that could take control if the vehicle malfunctioned. The biggest and probably the boldest move came from Telsa. In October 2016, Tesla announced that all of its new vehicles would be equipped with autonomous driving software.
The software built into the cars would be collected by Tesla, which would then be used to train the Tesla fleet to drive themselves. At this point in time, they are the closest to producing mass-market self-driving vehicles. Ford made the bold move to announce that it was going to deploy self-driving cars as a ride-sharing service by 2021, while GM said it would start testing self-driving taxis in 2017.
As for Google (GOOG), the company doubled the number of cities it had been testing in 2016 while launching the self-driving project Waymo. According to reports, Waymo cars drove over 1 million miles without a driver in 2016 alone. What is clear is that in the next year or two, we are going to see self-driving cars on the roads in the ride sharing and taxi service industry. Not only will this have a massive financial impact on the companies themselves, but also the users.
Changes in City Design
With the impending arrival of autonomous cars, the National Association of City Transportation Officials or NACTO has outlined a vision of the future, which could mean more freedom for pedestrians and cyclists. NACTO’s vision is to limit self-driving cars to a speed of 20 mph in the city and allow pedestrians to cross the street anywhere they like, instead of on designated crosswalks. The idea is that a self-driving car can identify a pedestrian and slow down when needed. This could radically change the way cities are laid out, and how cyclists and pedestrians move through the city.
The Future of Ride-Sharing
The future of the self-driving car is a forgone conclusion, and with autonomous ride sharing facilities, there could be a radical change in how you choose where you want to go. Imagine you are on your way to a local restaurant. You whip out your phone and program in your destination into your ride-sharing app. Suddenly you see a popup saying that instead of paying to go to your restaurant, you can get a free ride to a different restaurant somewhere else. Would you bet tempted to take it?
The reduced costs of running a driverless car would mean that businesses could offer free rides to their location. This offers users a completely different way of looking at where they want to go. Instead of having to pay for a lift, you can hop in a driverless car and spend that money on a more extravagant meal. The age of the autonomous car is closer than you think. Successful results in the ride-sharing sector could pave the way towards a global movement that would leave drivers completely hands free.