Driverless could drive us off the road

Driverless cars will change the face of mobility for ever and could consign driven vehicles to the same fate as the horse-and-buggy.

That’s the prediction being made by Mark Thomas, vice-president marketing of RideCell. He also sees the mobility provider playing a greater role in all aspects of the vehicle’s management and maintenance than they do at present.

Speaking to TU-Automotive, Thomas said: “The big part of the value change in mobility will be in the consolidation of all the different vehicle related services to a single provider. That new mobility provider will have affiliations and potentially even ownership of servicing stations that do deep vehicle maintenance as well as cleaning, predictive diagnostic-style repairs and there will be an integrated network for towing, like a B2B model where a tow company has a relationship with a mobility company to cope with issues when the vehicles have to be pulled off the road.

“We will see this more in the autonomous world where, rather than breaking down, the vehicle will realise, say weather conditions it can’t handle, and will then need to pull itself off the road and make it’s way back when it can safely. So, overall, the service providers themselves will have contract relationships or own all of the associated elements, such as insurance and maintenance.”

However, these mobility advantages will come at a cost to our traditional view of owning and using personal transport. Thomas explained: “We may find ourselves in a situation where personally driven vehicles are not allowed on certain highways in the same way that horses do not get to use the roads except on very limited areas. It may seem completely foreign to us now but, in the long haul, we will see a complete reinvention of transportation in the same magnitude as when we went from horse-and-buggy to the motor car.”

Yet, Thomas believes there will be huge advantages for society brought in by the autonomous vehicle. In his presentation to delegates at TU-Automotive Europe 2017, one of the standout predictions Thomas made was that autonomous technology will halve the cost-per-mile of journeys compared to current vehicles. Yet, an almost greater impact will be the reduced traffic congestion a city will enjoy with driverless vehicles. Thomas explained: “There are a number of ways that autonomous vehicles will reduce congestion. At a typical traffic light, the first car goes, second car driver looks up sees the way is clear then goes, then the third driver, who maybe playing with his phone, waits a few seconds then goes. With autonomous all these vehicles will start at the same time.

“So, you will be able to get a huge number of cars through the traffic lights in the same amount of time that it now takes humans to drive their vehicles through them. The cooperation and the compact nature of the autonomous vehicles will allow them to respond faster and be more efficient than a typical driven vehicle.”

He went on to cite the differences between a ‘robotaxi’ and a traditional chauffeured vehicle will reduce urban congestion in other ways too. Thomas said: “If you simply deregulate and let an unlimited amount of taxis on the city streets, there will be an over supply of taxies meaning there will be lots of vehicles driving around without having any passengers. With the number of cars matched more closely with passenger demand, vehicles will have a much higher utilisation rate. Also, with lots of cars at the moment driving around just looking for parking spaces, this is eliminated when people are able to jump into a vehicle that whisks, stops and then starts off again.

“Lastly, taxi services were not designed to allow for pooling. Autonomous would offer pooling as the default option. So, vehicles will be designed to accommodate multiple strangers, probably offering a business-class option where a screen will offer privacy. Pooling will increase the density of people in vehicles which will have a dramatic affect on the overarching traffic conditions.”

Thomas believes this revolution is closer than many would imagine, confidently predicting: “We see this happen by 2025, while by 2030 one third of all urban traffic use will be in shared mobility. There will be a tipping point when 40% of all vehicles are autonomous, the benefit of having a 100% autonomous fleet changes vehicle traffic patterns for ever.”


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