Raise your hand if you think you will own a fully autonomous SAE Level 5 car within the next 10 years. You did not see my hand go up. Why, for two reasons. The first is there are some very difficult technical problems that are like finding a cure for cancer. You can pour as much money as you like at them and there is no guarantee they will be solved. Second, I don’t think the world is ready for this technology.
In a recent Forbes article written by Saeed Elnaj he provides a number of interesting insights beginning with an analysis of the recent Uber fatal crash. He compares where we are today with driverless cars to the early days of air travel. I don’t actually think that is a fair comparison as we already have a non-autonomous automobile option, unlike when the Wright brothers were inventing the airplane and there was no other choice if you wanted to fly, you had to take some risk. The same idea applies to the introduction of the automobile. There was no choice.
As Saeed points out in 2017 cars with drivers logged 3.22 trillion miles in the U.S. with 37,000 fatalities. When we get closer to level 4 and 5 this is going to be the major argument for why we should be willing to accept the new technology, even if it is not “perfect.”I do believe this a valid argument, but who is going to decide what is an acceptable level of fatalities? I suppose the government, or will it be the consumer?
Let’s say we somehow get the technology to support Level 5, initially under some narrowly defined usage cases. What is the transition going to look like where we have cars with drivers and without on the same highways and roads?
Saeed makes some strong arguments that in four or five years there will be a massive convergence of economic, social and demographic forces that will combine with the new technology to create significant demand for the driverless option. Smart city planners are counting on the idea that transportation is going to become a service. There is no question that today’s children under 10, let’s say, are the target market for the Level 5 autos in the mid-2020’s, once again assuming they can be built.
But what about the rest of the population? When asked today 56% of Americans said they would not ride in a driverless vehicle, let alone buy one. That is a much more powerful economic block than teenagers who will potentially never need a driver’s license.
Saeed concludes that although there are many challenges that he thinks driverless vehicles “might become a dominant mode of transportation sooner than we expect.”
You know where I stand, what do you think?
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