Technological, Economic & Societal Impact
Key Industries Impacted: Consumer Products & Services; Auto Manufacturing; Government; Financial Services; Technology, Media & Communications
Research today predicts that by 2050 owning a smart autonomous vehicle will become the norm for consumers. The first big leap in introducing autonomous vehicles to the consumer market is expected in 2017 from Google, whose self-driving technology now costs a tenth of its original $80,000 price tag. Every major automotive manufacturer will likely follow by the early 2020s. Many of the key pieces of technology necessary for the manufacturing of autonomous vehicles are continuing to decrease in cost as the technology is perfected. And while the price of a self-driving car is still outside the price range of most consumers, investor interest continues to increase.
According to a University of Texas report, if 90 percent of the cars on roads in the United States were replaced by autonomous vehicles, the savings across various industries, such as automakers, insurers and the government, could reach as high as $450 billion. This would be a huge incentive for policymakers to clear the way for self-driving cars in the future. The full adoption of autonomous vehicles will likely take decades, but the anticipated safety, economy and convenience will no doubt help speed up the process.
Adoption curve source: Autonomous Vehicle Implementation Predictions, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, December 2015
1 Autonomous Vehicle Implementation Predictions, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
2 Autonomous vehicle roadmap: 2015-2030
3 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020, Business Insider
4 Self-Driving-Vehicle Features Could Represent a $42 Billion Market by 2025, Market Wired
5 Autonomous Vehicle Adoption Study, BCG
6 IEEE Predict That 75% of Cars Will Be Autonomous By 2040, Car Insurance Quotes
7 Sorry, Your Next Car Will Probably Be Smarter Than You, Chris Neiger (TMFNewsie)
Key Considerations and Implications
Widespread use of autonomous vehicles will affect a number of established sectors and industries. Below, we outline key sectors and the changes they are likely to experience.
Spotlight: Autonomous Semi-Trailer Trucks
The adoption of autonomous semi-trailer trucks, aka “big rigs” in the U.S., has progressed much faster than the adoption of autonomous cars. The main benefits that self-driving trucks present are safety, reduced labor demand and fuel efficiency.
- Autonomous trucks have the potential to save thousands of lives by eliminating driver fatigue – the key factor in the 4,000 deaths caused by truck accidents each year. The U.S. Congress is already pushing for stricter trucking regulation in 2016 that will limit operating times for truckers – an unpopular idea for trucking companies already short on drivers. The safety issues presented by fatigued drivers can be solved by utilizing autonomous trucks instead.
- Autonomous trucks can significantly alleviate driver shortage, or eliminate the need for drivers altogether. Truck driver short- age is estimated at more than 50,000 drivers currently, and could exceed 100,000 drivers in a few years. Self-driving trucks are not expected to eliminate drivers in the short term, but within the next 5-10 years it is expected by some that long-haul drivers will be 100 percent replaced.
- Self-driving trucks will increase fuel and driver efficiency. Because trucks will be able to communicate with one another and with other autonomous vehicles, they will navigate traffic more quickly, increasing fuel efficiency as a result.
- For truck drivers, adopting autonomous trucks represents the elimination of their jobs. Already there are a number of groups campaigning against autonomous trucks, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labor union. Businesses that rely on truck drivers for income, such as restaurants and motels along highways, may also be negatively impacted.
Spotlight: Unmanned Vehicles via App
With the adoption of autonomous vehicles, it will be possible for unmanned cars to be summoned, via app, to a given location. This will not only reduce road congestion and accidents, but impact the lives of people of all ages. Various industries may be altered or may diminish in importance due to the new ease of transportation.
- Self-driving cars can significantly change the lives of people who are blind, disabled or too young to drive by giving them independence, social interaction and access to essential services. Drunk-driving fatalities will decrease significantly due to the ease of hailing transportation. This will not only save the lives of drivers, but create safer surroundings for cyclists, pedestrians and bystanders.
- People will benefit from hands-free driving by gaining time to be more productive while in transit, as they do not need to be making actual decisions behind the wheel. Commute time will be shortened due to fewer accidents and more efficient routes.
- Ride-sharing services have already upset the taxi industry, and the need for taxi drivers will continue to decrease with the encroachment of self-driving cars. Companies such as Uber would benefit greatly from the ability to summon vehicles where needed without having to pay drivers; however, they would still need to upfront the costs of owning their fleets. Uber will be deploying a test vehicle in the near future to advance its driverless car goals. It is unclear yet what legal implications Uber could face in shifting toward an autonomous vehicle fleet. What is clear, however, is that a future Uber that no longer needs drivers will affect those individuals currently relying on income as Uber drivers.
- The demand for expanded public transportation could decrease as autonomous vehicles would be able to service out-of-the-way locations that currently lack public transportation services. Domestic and short-haul flights will face competition from on-demand cars, as many people may choose the convenience of being picked up and driven by an autonomous car the entire way.
- The real estate industry could undergo changes as the ease of transportation may shift the demand for property back to the suburbs. In addition, the need for parking will decrease as driverless car fleets will be moving continuously between places, rather than taking up parking spots.