Autonomous Cars = Eat, Sleep, and Drive?

Every word I have written or spoken about distracted driving this month has stirred a lot of emotion in those that care about this very issue. There is no question the distracted-driving debate is a powerful one. Thus, before we put this year’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month behind us, I thought it might be prudent to take a closer look autonomous vehicles.

To date, in previous columns I have mentioned that many drivers believe autonomous vehicles will bring about the end of distracted driving. It’s an interesting topic, and it’s just one of many that are being unearthed as we approach the age of autonomous vehicles.

So let’s look at some numbers for autonomous vehicles. There’s no shortage of research being conducted on how big the market could grow with time and innovation. BCG (Boston Consulting Group),, provides some valuable insight suggesting that by 2035 there could be as many as 12 million fully autonomous vehicles sold globally each year. As highlighted in this blog and in Connected World magazine, however, there is going to be a long transition period during which the majority of vehicles on the road aren’t fully autonomous, but partially autonomous.

BCG thought of this too, and the firm predicts that by 2035, there will be about 18 million partially autonomous vehicles sold globally each year. So, we are potentially looking at 12 million fully autonomous and 18 partially autonomous vehicles sold annually in less than 20 years. The combined market for fully and partially autonomous vehicles, according to BCG, is expected to grow from about $42 billion in 2025 to nearly $77 billion in 2035. That’s what one firm has to say, but other estimates aren’t so conservative.

Navigant Research,, for instance, analyzed the market and determined up to 85 million autonomous-capable vehicles could be sold globally by 2035. No matter how many millions of autonomous vehicles are sold in the future, it’s safe to assume that autonomy will change transportation in the next several decades. Road safety is a biggie.

Once vehicles can truly serve as a driver’s extra set of eyes, ears, and reflexes, they will help prevent many of the accidents that occur today. The general consensus is that autonomous vehicles will significantly reduce the number of traffic-related fatalities worldwide.

Another change to the current transportation system will be a reduction in traffic congestion thanks to autonomous vehicles. Dave Alexander, senior research analyst with Navigant Research, says studies have shown that measurable improvements in traffic flow can be expected if as few as 10% of vehicles on a road used adaptive cruise control. This technology ensures the vehicle automatically keeps a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of it. If what Alexander says is true, and autonomous capabilities like adaptive cruise control can reduce traffic significantly, this will lead to fuel savings and spending less valuable time on the road.

Another potential trend we’re hearing more and more about is vehicle sharing. Once cars can drive themselves, will owners be willing to loan their cars out to other people as a sort of driverless taxi service while the vehicles aren’t in use by their owners? This is a very interesting iteration of a potential vehicle-sharing scenario, but it’s one that’s being bantered about as something that might actually happen in the future. But before we get too carried away with the future, let’s get an update on where we are right now with autonomous vehicles and, particularly, testing.

One piece of news this month is that California’s Dept. of Motor Vehicles issued autonomous vehicle testing permits to 30 entities. These entities include Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Google, Tesla, Bosch, Nissan, GM, BMW, Honda, Ford, Baidu USA, Nvidia, Subaru, and Apple, among many others. The inclusion of Apple on this list is of course generating a lot of buzz.

It will be interesting to see what technology Apple is working on and how it will end up impacting the market. There is no question we will have our ear to the ground on this one. The rumor mill is also bringing us news about GM, which appears to be readying a large fleet of autonomous vehicles, perhaps by working with Bosch, for deployment in three locations: Detroit, San Francisco, and Scottsdale. While autonomous vehicle testing isn’t brand new, my gut is telling me that we just might be teetering on the edge of something very game-changing. More specifically, we’re teetering on the edge of a huge push toward gathering data and research about the viability of today’s autonomous technologies in real-life environments.

This is a key next step toward making autonomous vehicles a reality. That means we need to see the technology performs on real roads in real traffic situations. There are other hurdles that need to be addressed, too, before our cars can become driverless.

There are still a lot of questions that need to be addressed. For instance, in the event of an accident involving two vehicles that were operating autonomously, who is at fault? The question of how autonomous vehicles will change the insurance world is an extremely interesting one. What infrastructure needs to be built up to support these vehicles, and how will our transportation infrastructure needs change, as society moves away from personally owned vehicles to new vehicle-sharing models? What precautions do we as an industry need to take to protect autonomous systems from being hacked? Security will need to be just as big a part of this conversation as it is in many other sectors of the IoT.

And, of course, to come full circle on Distracted Driving Awareness Month, how will autonomous vehicles affect the distracted driving discussion? Will distracted driving be less of a concern because humans will simply be less responsible for their vehicle’s movements? Maybe eventually, but right now it’s a dangerous mindset to have until we have reached full autonomy—and that won’t be for many more decades. Studies have already shown the problems that exist when people think they can eat, drink, sleep, text, and even some knuckleheads report they want to engage in sexual activities when they are in autonomous vehicle.

What big questions do you have about the coming age of autonomous vehicles? I, for one, am excited about the future, but still have many questions about how and when we will be fully and truly autonomous?

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By |2017-04-24T18:41:24+00:004/26/2017|

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