According to the IEEE, by 2040 driverless cars will account for up to 75% of cars on the road worldwide (click here for the article dated September 19, 2012), based on use of M2M technology.
It is certainly the case that driverless cars are technically feasible. Beecham Research’s own newsletter article from July (see Snaps #50: Autonomous Vehicles) also examined this. The point is – do we really want this?
It is postulated that with driverless cars accidents would be a thing of the past. We are told that over 60% of accidents “include” some form of driver cause and that all of this can be avoided if cars can get information directly from each other and from road infrastructure to make journeys safer. We are told that accidents cost the world economy hundreds of billions a year and that all of that could be a thing of the past.
This may sound reasonably logical but there are a few assumptions in it that don’t really add up. I have recently been driving in highly congested, narrow, wiggly mountain and coastal roads in Italy where cars get parked on both sides of the road in the most unlikely places. Nevertheless, driver ingenuity keeps the traffic flowing at what might be described as breakneck speed, even while avoiding uncharted potholes. Motorbikes and scooters squeeze through the most unpromising gaps, pedestrians negotiate roads without the benefit of pavements. Italian drivers – like many in other countries – take pride in the accuracy and efficiency of their driving. Accidents certainly do happen, but it is frankly unbelievable that driverless cars would be accident free in the real world. Who knows if they would perform better than human drivers in real world situations like these.
In addition to this, do car owners really want driverless cars? Can you have a driverless sports car, or is that a contradiction? Is there any point in having a performance car at all if it is driverless? Goodbye Ferrari and Porsche?
A recent survey reported in the UK’s Daily Telegraph on September 7, 2012 was titled “90% of drivers want to steer clear of costly extras”. Undertaken by the UK’s AA (Automobile Association) of 21,000 of its members, the top 10 of most unwanted extras often included in modern cars at extra cost were: Rain-sensing wipers and built-in satellite navigation (both regarded as unnecessary by 56% of drivers); cruise control (54%); engine stop-start system (53%); automatic headlights (52%); and parking sensors (37%). If car owners don’t want to pay for these, what is the chance they will want to pay for an expensive driverless car?
It has been pointed out that drivers of VIPs need to constantly assess off-road risks, such as assassination or kidnap attempts. I’m sure there are many other examples of needing to anticipate off-road risks. Will driverless cars cope with these situations? It seems unlikely.
So if not all cars are driverless, how does a driverless car cope with a car that has a driver? Can we instead gain much of the purported benefits of driverless cars by going about all this in a somewhat different way?
There is no doubt that M2M technology can achieve wonderful things. However, we need to beware a view of the world that makes sweeping assumptions about what people really want and what they are prepared to pay for. It is usually not that simple.