Inspector’s Page: The Future of Cars

By now, you have surely heard or read about the hyped phenomenon of autonomous drive, or self-driving vehicles. Recent advancements in autonomous drive technologies signal that we are on the verge of a new paradigm within the transportation of people. You might also have heard about the “internet of things”, meaning that objects are being equipped with technology rendering them smart and connected. Autonomous driving can be understood as a way of applying “internet of things” on personal transport, and is currently an area attracting a lot of attention within both business and research.

First of all, there are solid grounds to believe in autonomous driving. Among many arguments, the 1 million miles of driving that Google has already undertaken on roads in Mountain View, Austin and Kirkland is awe-inspiring. However, there is a noticeable vibe of utopia surrounding this whole phenomenon of autonomous driving. Accordingly, Gartner has pointed out both “internet of things” and “autonomous vehicles” to be at the peak of inflated expectations in their yearly ”Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” in 2015. It is difficult to argue against this view, that expectations are high and that it will most likely take many years until we have seen the implications of self-driving cars.

Yet, although early developments do not provide much fact, they do at least offer interesting fiction that helps us understand how self-driving cars will affect us as customers and citizens, businesses and governments, producers, operators and regulators. Without providing answers, consider these questions for what would happen if personal vehicles would become autonomous: Are you going to own the self-driving car or are you going to use it as a taxiservice? If you are not owning it, who is? How will this affect cities? for example parking space and congestion? What are you going to do with your time in the car, when it is driving you, and who will benefit from that? What about substitutes such as train and public transport? And of course, the million dollar question: If you are a car manufacturer in year 2016, how do you approach autonomous driving?

The promise of convenience might be central to customer adoption of these technologies, but to governments and transportation authorities, safety is paramount. Not surprisingly, public-private partnerships appear to be crucial in order to get self-driving cars on the road. An example of such an effort is the project ”Drive Me”, where Volvo Cars and transportation authorities will collaborate in a pilot study of 100 self-driving cars, in Göteborg, starting in 2017. Also, considering the success factors for this shift, including competence in the area of transport, energy, ICT, and the ability to collaborate across firm and institutional borders, Sweden might just have a chance to compete in this new area.

The comments above are limited to personal transport. If you increase the scope by adding transportation of goods, electrification of vehicles and the possibilities of drones to the mix, the urgency and excitement surrounding this new phenomenon make sense.

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