Autonomous Vehicles and the Future of Mobility

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Release date: 1/20/2020

Autonomous Vehicles and the Future of Mobility
By Joe Moye

For generations, autonomous vehicles have been the de facto mode of transportation for the future. Time and time again, futuristic autonomous vehicles have been featured in iconic action movies, cartoons and television shows as technology designed to assist the superhero or star of the show. For example, in 1966, Adam West’s Batmobile included self-driving capabilities, inspiring many to wonder and anticipate what the self-driving future could look like. Those who are familiar with the "The Jetsons" will remember much of the animated show’s focus was on autonomous cars, shuttles, and similar technologies. This technology has evolved, and the future of travel is decidedly pointing to autonomous services, yet there is still much debate on how the future of mobility and mass transportation will evolve and in what timeframe.

Disruption in the industry

When it comes to autonomous mobility and its certain future, the term "disruption" often comes to mind. Driverless vehicles and fleets are the disruptors of the transportation industry as we know it today, but the actual disruption is something that will evolve over time. We’re still in the early stages of this technology. Even low-speed, fixed-course autonomous shuttle vehicles are in their infancy as transportation solutions; many of today’s deployments are "firsts" for several cities and communities. The initial, regulated deployments that are underway right now with multipassenger vehicles are advancing the testing and proof points of safe autonomous mobility. We believe these tests will be a major contributor for driving the disruption that will result in the full-scale adoption of autonomous mobility solutions for public transportation and eventually for personal transportation.

Realistic timeframes

Deployment of low-speed, geo-fenced autonomous vehicles and fleets, as an alternative to traditional mobility use cases, is paving the way for testing what a complete driverless environment could and would look like. Interacting with pedestrians, mixed traffic, and other surroundings are some of the important learnings to be gained from these deployments that will greatly advance anywhere, anytime, any-speed autonomous services. There are other important autonomous applications such as farm equipment, highway trucking applications, package delivery and industrial equipment that are also important to the testing and perfecting of autonomy.

Although most of the headlines today are about personal transportation, the impact for many businesses will be substantial. For example, a report released by Bloomberg in May 2019 highlights a farmer who estimates he can save 80% on his farm chemical costs by using autonomous equipment. In the transportation of goods, labor represents a large percentage of the cost profile, which will be significantly impacted with autonomous solutions. There is plenty of motivation and positive results to go around for businesses and consumers; however, a major challenge facing the autonomous technology revolution is managing realistic timeline expectations in the marketplace.

Several media publications suggest that the widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles, buses, fleets, and public transportation is within just a couple years. Although autonomous vehicles are being deployed around the world today, in certain use cases such as the low-speed, fixed-route, geo-fenced routes, the full-scale adoption timeframe to realize the "robo-taxi" anywhere, anytime, any-speed transportation service is a minimum of a decade away for true autonomous SAE Level-5 deployments. There are also a significant number of benefits beyond the vehicles themselves, such as cybersecurity, fleet orchestration and logistics, safety standards, infrastructure, transportation legislation, the customer experience, and more. All these areas are also evolving, making for stronger, more secure mobility solutions and a better autonomous customer transportation experience.

The human element and safety

The first question consumers and legislators ask is always about safety. When a vehicle is autonomous, the vehicle still does not see and interpret its surroundings exactly as a human would, and therefore it lacks a certain level of intuition. On the other hand, autonomous vehicles react to motion and events at a rate two to three times faster than a human can, and the use of artificial intelligence will continually improve required interpretive logic. Most importantly, autonomous vehicles don’t get distracted by their surroundings or mobile devices. Human error and poor judgment are the leading causes of traffic accidents and deaths on our roadways. There is plenty of research to validate that autonomous vehicles and equipment will dramatically improve safety in all applications. The immediate, safe use cases such as low-speed, fixed-route applications in a controlled environment will be the guidepost for advancing into more complex, faster speed applications and wider spread use in our communities and towns.

The future of mobility

Ultimately, safety will be the key determinant for the timeline of future deployments and expanded use of autonomous transportation solutions, and security will change the way people think about autonomous car ownership and public transportation. Today, we see autonomous fleets in the transportation of goods, farm equipment, maritime applications and even package delivery. Each of these use cases are examples where human intervention can be eliminated, and that’s where industry disruption is currently the most prevalent. What’s required to see mass adoption of autonomous technologies that extend to all roads and highways is the ability to move from low-speed controlled environments safely into high-speed more complex environments.

Another factor driving the transformation of mobility is the need to serve a new generation of tech-savvy riders. According to recent data released by Deloitte, millennials are less likely to purchase cars than past generations. The data states that 46% of millennials and Gen Z question the benefits of car ownership when ride-share is so easy. They also embrace new technology, making them well-aligned with the future of autonomous vehicles. Widespread use of new transportation solutions will also help people with disabilities and the aging baby boomer generation who may need additional help with transportation, especially for those who have difficulty driving. Connecting residents and constituents with various services through convenient and cost-effective mobility services will be an absolute requirement for communities to attract and retain new residents and businesses.

The future of mobility is already here today in the form of autonomous transportation, and it will continue to evolve over many years before we are able to experience the George Jetson effect. We believe that autonomous solutions represent one of the most transformational technologies we will see in a lifetime. The use cases will expand and extend into many new transportation services in the coming years to great benefit for businesses and consumers alike.

Joe Moye is CEO of Beep Inc.