Rubén M.Cenzano

Chartered Civil Engineer specialised in Transportation

Ingeniero de Caminos especialista en Transporte

rethinking the role of transport

Posted On Tuesday, 24 January 2017


The US Department of Transportation recently promoted a top-level committee to analyse the potential impact of transport automation on society, including automotive companies, academics in the field of transportation, politicians, and companies with an interest in the area such as Waymo, Uber, Lyft, Delphi or Apple.

We are about to see a revolution on transport*, where there are some different approaches:

 1)  Self-production of autonomous vehicles: companies such as Tesla, Ford or GM
 2)  Collaboration with technology providers: Toyota, Audi and BMW are working in conjunction with technology providers such as Mobileye, Intel or Nvidia, among others.
 3)  Development of new scenarios:
 3a.)  Daimler is working with fleet managers like Car2go or MyTaxi,
 3b.)  Volvo and Uber are developing specific products.
 3c.)  Waymo (Google) is integrating and manufacturing more and more of their own sensors and components, as well as offering their services to companies like Fiat Chrysler.

However, there is a key point for all these approaches: Private ownership of autonomous vehicles makes no economic sense and could well see more traffic as they circulate empty or in search of parking spaces, which leads to share economies such as carpooling.

An MIT study shows that a fleet of 3,000 vehicles used on a shared basis would be sufficient to replace New York’s 13,237 taxis covering 98% of trips with a waiting time of about 2.7 minutes.

Uber Pool was presented in a TED talk in March entitled “Uber’s plan to move more people in fewer cars” has achieved a great success. Al the same time, Uber’s CEO (Travis Kalanick) has said that he loves the idea of replacing Uber's human drivers with robots.

If this is the new scenario we are progressing to, car makers will sell no vehicles to individuals. Instead, cars would be managed and optimized by companies, which will renew fleets more often as a result of higher usage rates due to the fleet optimization.

According to Google, Waymo has managed to bring the cost of driverless technology - including the expensive laser sensors - down 90%.

Producing truly driverless cars at that sort of scale is the hard part. Connecting them to passengers via an app isn't. Uber's advantage right now is the drivers it brings to the platform. Once they're gone, what would they offer to the market?

* If you still don't believe that driverless cars are almost here and able to drive anywhere -not just under urban western standards, you should be aware of driverless cars being tested in what it looks to be the hardest conditions on Earth: India. With unruly pedestrians, disorderly drivers, reckless autorickshaws, a variety of slow-moving carts, darting dogs, and the occasional elephant, Indian roads are really something else. But there’s one company that apparently has the audacity to test driverless cars in India: Tata Elxsi.



Further info: E.Dans, T. Cheshire

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