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It's only a matter of time before autonomous vehicles become a mainstay of cities and towns around the world, with robotic cars currently being trialed in a number of different locations. Why are we so interested in autonomous cars though, and what difference will they eventually make to society?
According to Templeton, there are a couple of massive reasons for embracing robotic technology, including both safety and convenience, and it’s far from just about making the daily commute easier.
Brad explains that safety plays the biggest part in the switch to autonomous cars, but adds: "The biggest change to society comes from vehicles that can deliver themselves - mobility on demand - because that changes everything about how we 'buy' cars (or rather transportation), and makes them cheaper, more convenient, much less energy consuming and changes our cities and the way we live."
By removing the need for a driver, the potential for car sharing becomes a lot more attractive, and that could make a massive difference to the environment. According to Zipcar, for example, the use of just one of its shared cars removes the need for around 17 privately owned vehicles – imagine the space that could be saved if thousands more people took to car sharing.
“All options will appear,” adds Brad. “Some [people] will own. Some will hire and not own. Some will go from two cars to one, plus hiring. Some will own a fancy car and hire it out when not using it. Some will own an old-style car. There are reasons for all of these. But yes, there will be many who choose to mostly hire vehicles on demand and thus not own as many vehicles. This does not reduce the number of vehicles made, but it does reduce how many are parked.”
At the moment, fully autonomous cars may seem a long way away, with plenty of people struggling to get their heads round the idea of giving up the steering wheel, but the tech is already here, and according to Brad the only thing in the way is lots of testing, “to make sure the vehicles are safe in as many situations as possible.” He also adds that longer-range sensors are required for higher speeds.
Just because the technology becomes available doesn’t mean that we all need to embrace it, at least not initially. With cars proving one of the biggest purchases we’ll ever make outside of our homes, it’s inevitable that plenty of people will be unable to buy autonomous cars, at least until they become more commonplace and affordable.
But that shouldn’t be an issue, with both human controlled cars and autonomous vehicles able to coexist, at least according to Templeton.
“Of course they have to mix, there is no other option. However, many who decide they love it will sell their existing car when they switch. At first, to other people in their town, and after lots of people switch, the old cars may be sold to other cities, or even other countries.”
image credit: Paulo Bona
Although autonomous cars can have a massive impact on society, lots of industries will also change as a result. Brad explains:
“The taxi industry will become huge, but [obviously] without drivers. Buses also eventually lose drivers, but they’ll also mostly go away; they’re not very energy efficient compared to small, light electric cars. Vans will replace buses.”
The haulage industry will also change according to Templeton, but that will take longer to change. “Truck driving will go down, but more slowly. Nobody wants to have early accidents with trucks; better to have them in small vehicles.”
So it seems that even the experts envision some teething problems with autonomous vehicles, but compared to the huge number of accidents currently caused by human error, it looks like the driverless future should be a lot safer, easier and more convenient all round.