The nature of pioneering innovation makes predictions of future impact difficult. One illustration of this is that most of the internet’s dramatic multi-faceted influence on our lives could not have been foreseen in the mid 1990’s when the network was opened up for mass use. Similarly, the autonomous vehicle revolution is expected to influence such a wide range of areas that any attempt to forecast the full extent of its consequences may be revealed as absurd. Nonetheless, several developments can be predicted with a relatively high degree of certainty, even if their intensity and timing are unclear. Some will directly influence consumers, in other words existing and potential users of motor vehicles, while others will influence them indirectly via a change in the infrastructures and mechanisms that lie at the foundation of the transportation and mobility world today.
Primarily, autonomous cars are expected to be safer. Studies indicate that approximately 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error. Naturally, autonomous cars will also sometimes “make mistakes” and cause accidents, however computerized learning processes will bring about a reduction in these errors, rendering them negligible. Secondly, travel time is expected to be dramatically shortened. The autonomous vehicles’ swift reaction capabilities and the communication between them will enable the shortening of safety intervals and quicker travel. In addition, as soon as all vehicles are connected to the same communication data network, it will be possible to optimize the travel routes in a manner that will significantly reduce traffic congestion. All these may lead to a streamlining and increase of up to 5 times the mileage traveled on the same road infrastructure.1
Naturally, the travel experience will be significantly enhanced once the vehicle becomes autonomous, thereby allowing the passengers to transfer their attention to work or leisure. The passenger’s spare time will be utilized via entertainment systems and passenger information and communications systems. The future ‘Infotainment’ systems will be based on connectivity and will provide integrated services such as media players, augmented reality, and adaptation of the entertainment experience from aspects of acoustics, lighting and others. Car manufacturers and large technology companies are already working on these systems today.
Travel costs will also decrease dramatically, mainly as the result of the transition from the vehicle as a consumer product to ‘mobility as a service’ that will be provided via pools of autonomous vehicles that will compete which other in indices of efficiency and quality. Estimates are that the travel cost per kilometer will be reduced by 80 percent as the result of this transition. This saving reflects the inefficiency embodied in today’s limited utilization of private vehicles, that for most of the day are parked in a static state without serving their owner. This contrasts with autonomous vehicles that will operate at almost full utilization while serving multiple users. A further parameter in which a significant change is expected is that of accessibility. People with disabilities, the elderly, children and other sectors of the population who have difficulty with independent mobility will be able to benefit from readily available, safe and affordable mobility. It is also reasonable to assume that this development will have additional ramifications on our daily lives. For example, the need for parents to drive their children to and from their educational institutions will become unnecessary, the children being able to safely and independently use the autonomous car themselves.
Influence will not be limited to driving however. Many mechanisms supporting motor vehicles today will be dramatically influenced by the transition to autonomous vehicles. Cities, for example, are presently planned to provide parking for a tremendous number of motor vehicles. In some cities, the accumulated parking areas even constitutes a quarter of the total city area. We can only speculate about the ramification of utilizing these areas for other purposes after we cease owning private cars and when the cars that provide service will be able to park densely and efficiently in designated areas far from the city centers.
In addition, the operative mechanisms of transportation law enforcement bodies and the insurance companies will also change. The insurance companies will change the insurance model such that payment will be based on usage and on manufacture characteristics such as vehicle quality grade, the algorithms upon which it is based, its safety systems and the average number of faults. Investigation of an accident between autonomous vehicles will be based on data gathered and transmitted from the vehicle to the control centers and insurance companies, and computerized automatic claims procedures will be developed between the insurance companies. Lessons learned from accidents will need to be implemented by the autonomous vehicle manufacturers for the future prevention of accidents. The regulation in this field is only in the initial stages of development, and binding principles will evolve over time in order to ensure service and safety quality.
The dramatic developments mentioned above also include aspects of concern. More than 100,000 people in Israel work as drivers, whether in public transport or in truck pools and in the delivery business.2
What will happen to these people when vehicles become autonomous? Of relevance is the question as to whether the market will catch up with the pace of disappearance of these professions and create new ones.
These are all conceivable developments, however, the horizon of technological and socio-economic changes that the autonomous vehicle revolution creates is substantially wider than we can currently estimate.
- KPMG (2012). Self-driving cars – the next revolution ↩︎
- National Bureau of Statistics Data 2016, Employees according to selected occupation groups ↩︎