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Autonomous vehicles are on their way fast, so fast in fact that the IEEE believes that by 2040, 75% of all cars will be autonomous. In theory, you would no longer require a driver's license anymore by then. A recent report from KPMG also backs up a strong transition towards fully autonomous cars and it will be an interesting development to keep an eye out for. So what is it about and why is it worth it? Would it take away the pleasure of driving?
Autonomous Market Share
A fully autonomous vehicle can drive from A to B on its own. It sounds very science fiction like and the first ones to roam about where developped for the Darpa challenges. For these challenges a specially designed vehicle had to find the way on its own, either on a pre-built track or a simulated city environment. For the Darpa challenges, the main driver was to create technology to be used by the military and it likely has ended up in the drones, or will at some stage.
For commercial reasons and autonomous vehicle is also interesting, as it opens up mobility by car to people who do not have that access now. It also reduces accidents and opens up a number of interesting businesses.
Currently you need a driver's license to drive a car, but with autonomous cars, the car drives you and that removes the need for a license. This would open up car use to the younger generations, people who are too old to drive safely or people who prefer to get some work done while they are on the road. Also in line with the current trend of younger generations to be always connected and online, an autonomous car would allow them that and prevent accidents from distracted drivers.
Autonomous cars would also be able to park on their own, which takes a lot of hassle out of owning a vehicle in an urban area. Even better, this would facilitate car-sharing programs to such an extend that a car is available on demand and comes to pick you up. If you're done with the car, it drives off to find someone else to pick up. A new and unique way of personalized, public transport!
Fully autonomous vehicles seem pretty far off still, but in some degree, the first signs of autonomous vehicles is already available on the market. Lane assist, park assist, adaptive cruis control; are all initial steps towards cars that drive on their own. Granted, most of it is available in top-of-the-line models, but slowly this is finding its way to the more mainstream vehicles.
Slowly more and more of these systems get added to our cars; it is the only road to get to fully autonomous cars for everyone. Besides the price impact of having to add all sensors and infrastructure to get to a fully autonomous car, the biggest hurdle is the driver who has to hand over the wheel to the computer.
By slowly adding one piece at a time to this puzzle, it allows economies of scale to slowly build up for every system and not have all in one go; resulting in a $100.000 car. Also, by adding these parts slowly over time, people can get used to it; nobody is going to hand over control just like that. People want to be able to control the car; or as this article put it:
"Have the illusion of control"
People want to have the idea that they are in control of this big machine that a car is. Taking that away and have the car drive them to where they want, takes away the 'pleasure' of driving. Driving in a traffic jam is no fun and neither is driving around looking for a parking spot. The only fun driving is on the race track or on open roads through the hills or the country.
The illustion of Having Control (but how much really?) - Link
It always reminds of a story I heard on a BMW sports sedan, with an automatic transmission. The sporty image and the automatic transmission do not hand in hand very well, in effect it did ot sell. Installing a switch so the driver could disable/enable the automatic transmission, changed this; it sold! Though a year after that when most of the data of maintenance repairs came in; it appeard that the vast majority of drivers kept the car in automatic transmission. They just need to have the idea that they can take control if they really want to.
For the minority out there that really does enjoy driving on every occasion, I'm sure driver's licenses will remain. In fact, the remains of the previous mobility revolution are also still allowed to ride their transport; horses.
To enable fully autonomous cars, the cars have to somehow get to know their surroundings. There are a few terms here that apply the method of communication for this. It is either Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V), or Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I). Overall, it is abbreviated as V2X, including both methods.
When Cars Talk to Each Other - V2V Technology
For V2V, the vehicles communicate with each other, letting the other vehicles know where they are. With V2I, communication is happening with the infrastructure, the roads, bridges, crossings, etc. For V2I this allows a centralized control of all traffic, whereas with V2V vehicles are truly on their own. Examples of V2V you can also see in some trials with a squadron of flying drones, which have to fly in a specific formation through an obstacle course. Both V2V and V2I have their pros and cons, the main differentiator being price. It is cheaper to install lots of cheap sensors in the cars instead of having to completely redesign our infrastructure. For V2I you would modify all roads which are going to be used by a minority at first, while a V2V approach would enable a slower introduction of more of these types of vehicles on the road.
The Google-Car is an example of V2V, all intelligence is in the car and it requires no adaption of the infrastructure at all. It also demonstrates that it can work by using lots of cheap sensors and advanced software instead of relying on expensive equipment to navigate around.