Future Forward: Intelligent mobility
Driverless, smart, safe. People in urban areas are increasingly shunning car ownership in favour of clean and integrated multi-modal mobility solutions. Soon, driving will not be simply hopping into your own Seat and putting your hands on the steering wheel to go get groceries.
Modern cars are built and used very differently from just a few years ago. Amid concern about climate change and air quality, electric cars are set to make up a quarter of all cars by 2030, predicts Carlos Ghosn, chairman of the Renault-Nissan Alliance.
By then, all, or most, cars are also likely to be connected, and many will be autonomous. That will facilitate the emergence of new services, such as predictive maintenance, sophisticated infotainment systems, and new car sharing approaches.
“Transport solutions will change dramatically with the uptake of connected and autonomous vehicles. This means we can start to look at what optimised movement of goods and people looks like,” says James Datson, senior technologist at the Transport Systems Catapult. A Mobility as a Service (Maas) model is emerging, in a shift away from widespread car ownership. “Being clever with the data generated by the mobility ecosystem offers society new opportunities,” he says.
But the puzzle will not be complete until consumers come to trust driverless vehicles. A key challenge, says Bosch chief executive Volkmar Denner, will be to “prove that an autonomous car does better and has less accidents than a human”.
The public remains unconvinced – even though human error contributes to 90% of car accidents. A 2016 survey by the London School of Economics found that only a quarter of respondents would be comfortable riding in an autonomous car.
So regulators and automotive firms are working hard to prove that driverless cars are safe, reliable, and don’t bite.
Waymo is ahead of the pack, not only because its cars are particularly trustworthy, but also because it is part of Alphabet, a leader in artificial intelligence. Waymo is the new name for the Google self-driving car project, around since 2009. And it has put long-established automotive groups to shame. Its test programme, with more than two million miles driven on roads, is considerably more ambitious than those of any other companies – and its driverless cars are the most reliable ones yet, according to reports submitted to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Reliability is measured by the number of disengagements, when the driver takes back control, per mile. Waymo reported 0.8 disengagements per 1,000 miles after having clocked up 635,868 autonomous miles during 2016. By comparison, the California data shows that BMW clocked up 638 autonomous miles with one disengagement, and Nissan 4,099 miles with 28 disengagements.
The autonomous driving data matters because the public will only adopt autonomous cars if they believe they are reliable and safe.
It is a challenge the software and automotive industries, as well as governments, must face together.