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Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS)

Looking 20 years ahead – the impact of autonomous cars

haydn.thompson Friday October 13, 2017

Currently the car buying demographics has shifted to citizens who are slightly older (typically at the point when people start families) rather than younger qualified drivers buying cars who have to contend with high insurance costs. This is also linked with urbanisation and the ability and willingness of younger people to use public transport.
There are two key changes underway:

  1. The introduction of Internet connectivity to cars
  2. The move to autonomous vehicles to improve safety on the roads

The introduction of Internet connectivity is partly driven by a desire from automotive manufacturers to attract younger drivers and also to provide attractive functionality for product differentiation. The services provided are likely to gives us much more information and will be selling points for future cars (even if we only use cars as passengers as part of a mobility service).
The impact of the introduction of autonomous cars, however, is far greater. Autonomous vehicles may remove some of the insurance barrier for younger drivers and also be attractive from a safety perspective for families. At the other end of the spectrum autonomous vehicles will allow the aging population with reducing personal mobility, sight and reaction times to continue to enjoy mobility safely, both for themselves and for other road users.
It should be noted though that in the near term cars will not be totally autonomous so there will be a need for level of competence in driving, e.g. supported by a licence, to cope with failure situations where a driver needs to take over control of the car. Fundamentally, the occupant of the car will be ultimately responsible for the car on the road, however, this responsibility may change as fully autonomous cars become more accepted and common.
A problem though is that the introduction of Internet connectivity will allow “drivers” of future vehicles to perform other tasks, surf the web, perform work, etc. which naturally will impact on their alertness to situations. So the key question is at what point is it more appropriate not to hand control of the car back to the occupant as they may not be sufficiently alert to react?