Ten ways autonomous driving could redefine the automotive world
The development of self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles is accelerating. Here’s how they could affect consumers and companies.
June 2015 | byMichele Bertoncello and Dominik Wee
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) represent a major innovation for the automotive industry, but their potential impact with respect to timing, uptake, and penetration remains hazy. While high levels of uncertainty currently surround the issue, the ultimate role that AVs could play regarding the economy, mobility, and society as a whole could be profound. In an effort to look beyond today’s rapidly changing predictions on AV penetration, we interviewed more than 30 experts across Europe, the United States, and Asia and combined these findings with our insights to arrive at ten thought-provoking potential implications of self-driving cars.
The widespread use of AVs could profoundly affect a variety of industry sectors. To explore these implications in depth, we focused on three time horizons of AV diffusion: before such vehicles are commercially available to individual buyers, when they are in the early stage of adoption, and when they become the primary means of transport (exhibit).
Era one: AVs not yet available to consumers
1. Industrial fleets lead the way.
While it’s unlikely that any on-road vehicles will feature “fully autonomous” drive technology in the short term (for instance, by 2020–22), AVs are already a reality in selected applications that feature controlled environments, such as mining and farming. In these cases, the restricted nature of operations and the possibility to operate on private roads facilitate adoption. Some of the benefits of autonomy in these fields include labor-cost savings and the reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through optimized driving (shown to cut emissions by as much as 60 percent). Other adjacent equipment applications—for example, in the construction and warehousing sectors—should see the next AV applications for vehicles such as excavators, forklifts, and loaders.
In the medium term (through 2040), on-highway trucks will likely be the first vehicles to feature the full technology on public roads. Prototypes already exist, and companies are currently developing the software algorithms needed to handle complex driving situations. Long-term automated commercial fleets might include vehicles for parcel delivery as well as automated drones, which multiple players are already field-testing.
2. Car OEMs face a decision.
Automakers worldwide will likely define and communicate their strategic position on AVs in the next two to three years. We have identified four strategic stances they can assume when introducing their autonomous-vehicle offerings:
- Premium incumbents. Established premium players with extensive customer bases and strong technical and commercial legacies will probably take an incremental approach to AVs. This likely means they will gradually introduce increasing levels of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) in their vehicles.
- Attackers. New industry players developing “radically new” vehicle architectures—such as high-tech giants, first-tier suppliers, and mobility operators—will focus on the “accessible mobility” consumer segment to capture volumes quickly and sustain ancillary business models.
- Fast followers. These OEMs have significant technical and commercial legacies. They will most likely invest in AV research and then wait for the vehicle-level costs of the core technologies to drop while penetration in the premium segments grows.
- Late entrants/nonadopters. As the name implies, these automakers will avoid entering the AV market in the short to medium term.
3. New mobility models emerge.
While OEMs are developing autonomous vehicles, a variety of other transport-mobility innovations are already hitting the road. Many of these take the form of pay-per-use models such as car sharing, carpooling, “e-hailing” taxi alternatives, and peer-to-peer car rentals. These plays are attracting investments and seeing impressive growth rates. The e-hailing model in particular has experienced strong growth given both annual investment funding and market penetration.
Era two: AVs enter the early-adoption phase
4. The car-service landscape changes.
The proliferation of AVs could represent an opportunity for car OEMs. As of 2014, for example, roughly 80 percent of the car-service shops in Germany were “independent” from OEMs. Given the safety-critical nature of AV technologies, customers might strongly prefer strict adherence to OEM service processes and the use of original service equipment when it comes to maintaining and repairing AV systems. This could imply a disadvantaged position for independent service providers unable to afford AV-maintenance systems. Furthermore, our research shows that nearly 60 percent of customers would follow their smart cars’ recommendations for service locations. Beyond the benefits of a bigger after-sales revenue stream, OEMs will have a strong incentive to service these vehicles, since regulators could ultimately force them to take on the greatest portion of the responsibility and risk associated with crashes caused by AV technical failures.
5. Car insurers might shift their business model.
Car insurers have always provided consumer coverage in the event of accidents caused by human error. With driverless vehicles, auto insurers might shift the core of their business model, focusing mainly on insuring car manufacturers from liabilities from technical failure of their AVs, as opposed to protecting private customers from risks associated with human error in accidents. This change could transform the insurance industry from its current focus on millions of private consumers to one that involves a few OEMs and infrastructure operators, similar to insurance for cruise lines and shipping companies.
6. Companies could reshape their supply chains.
AV technologies could help to optimize the industry supply chains and logistics operations of the future, as players employ automation to increase efficiency and flexibility. AVs in combination with smart technologies could reduce labor costs while boosting equipment and facility productivity. What’s more, a fully automated and lean supply chain can help reduce load sizes and stocks by leveraging smart distribution technologies and smaller AVs.
Era three: AVs go mainstream
7. Drivers have more time for everything.
AVs could free as much as 50 minutes a day for users, who will be able to spend traveling time working, relaxing, or accessing entertainment. The time saved by commuters every day might add up globally to a mind-blowing one billion hours—equivalent to twice the time it took to build the Great Pyramid of Giza. It could also create a large pool of value, potentially generating global digital-media revenues of €5 billion per year for every additional minute people spend on the mobile Internet while in a car.
8. Parking becomes easier.
AVs could change the mobility behavior of consumers, potentially reducing the need for parking space in the United States by more than 5.7 billion square meters. Multiple factors would contribute to the reduction in parking infrastructure. For example, self-parking AVs do not require open-door space for dropping off passengers when parked, allowing them to occupy parking spaces that are 15 percent tighter.
9. Accident rates drop.
By midcentury, the penetration of AVs and other ADAS could ultimately cause vehicle crashes in the United States to fall from second to ninth place in terms of their lethality ranking among accident types. Today, car crashes have an enormous impact on the US economy. For every person killed in a motor-vehicle accident, 8 are hospitalized, and 100 are treated and released from emergency rooms. The overall annual cost of roadway crashes to the US economy was $212 billion in 2012. Taking that year as an example, advanced ADAS and AVs reducing accidents by up to 90 percent would have potentially saved about $190 billion.
10. AVs accelerate robotics development for consumer applications.
The broad penetration of AVs will likely accelerate the development of robotics for consumer applications (including humanoid robots), since the two share many technologies. These include remote advanced sensing, hyperprecise positioning/GPS, image recognition, and advanced artificial intelligence. In addition to sharing technology, AVs and robots could benefit from using the same infrastructure, including recharging stations, service centers, and machine-to-machine communication networks. These commonalities might push multiple players to invest in both applications, as already shown by the significant investments in robotics made by selected automakers and high-tech players.
In addition to transforming the automotive industry, the rise of autonomous vehicles will likely have a profound impact on society. The ten developments described here provide a snapshot over the wide spectrum of possible outcomes linked to the increasing penetration of AVs in the market, offering industry leaders a look forward at this evolving landscape as it unfolds before them. Defining how to shape this landscape effectively represents a significant strategic challenge for the industry and regulatory authorities in the coming years.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil has made headlines with his provocative yet often accurate predictions, like that a computer would beat a human in chess (already happened) or that self-driving cars would take us everywhere (starting to happen).
But, to paraphrase fellow futurist Peter Diamandis, Kurzweil’s brilliance isn’t in the predictions themselves.
It’s in what the predictions represent — Kurzweil’s core thesis, a little thing called “the Law of Accelerating Returns.”
It states that “fundamental measures of information technology follow predictable and exponential trajectories.”
“The reality of information technology is it progresses exponentially,” he told the Financial Times. “30 steps linearly gets you to 30. One, two, three, four, step 30 you’re at 30. With exponential growth, it’s one, two, four, eight. Step 30, you’re at a billion.”
The most famous example is “Moore’s Law,” named for Intel cofounder Gordon Moore.
In case you haven’t heard, Moore’s Law has held true. It’s been integral to computers shrinking from filling up a room to filling up your pocket, all while becoming way more powerful.
While the empowering of computers is indeed amazing, it’s still a little abstract.
I am fond of telling the tale of the inventor of chess and his patron, the Emperor of China.
In response to the emperor’s offer of a reward for his new beloved game, the inventor asked for a single grain of rice on the first square, two on the second square, four on the third, and so on. The Emperor quickly granted this seemingly benign and humble request.
One version of the story has the emperor going bankrupt as the 63 doublings ultimately totaled 18 million trillion grains of rice. At ten grains of rice per square inch, this requires rice fields covering twice the surface area of the Earth, oceans included. Another version of the story has the inventor losing his head.
Therein lies the most terrifying, exciting, and mystifying aspect of Kurzweil’s thesis.
To him, we’re somewhere in the middle of that chessboard.
“It should be pointed out that as the emperor and the inventor went through the first half of the chess board, things were fairly uneventful,” Kurzweil continues. “The inventor was given spoonfuls of rice, then bowls of rice, then barrels. By the end of the first half of the chess board, the inventor had accumulated one large field’s worth (4 billion grains), and the emperor did start to take notice.”
And it’s only when a technology like a smartphone comes in and suddenly shifts our entire culture that we start to realize how quickly things are accelerating.
That’s because, Kurzweil says, humans are linear by nature — and technology is exponential.
Technology’s relentless, predictable, and exponential growth will, according to the law of accelerating returns, bring humans into the era that Kurzweil is most closely associated with, the singularity.
“As exponential growth continues to accelerate into the first half of the twenty-first century,” he writes. “It will appear to explode into infinity, at least from the limited and linear perspective of contemporary humans.”
The singularity (or Singularity) is used to describe the era when artificial intelligence supplants human intelligence as the most-capable processing power around.
The consequences of that moment — which is possible if Kurzweil’s theories hold — are widely debated.
Kurzweil seems optimistic. In 2013 he told the New York Times that nanobots will enhance our immune systems by 2030 and that he’s planning on living forever, more or less. Last April he told the Financial Times that he is planning on creating a simulated version of his late father and that any given brunch could be had on a Mediterranean beach with the aid of virtual reality. Larry Page was so impressed with Kurzweil that he made him chief engineer at Google so he could work on artificial intelligence for the search giant.
But some of the world’s other great innovative minds are less excited about the whole singularity thing.
Elon Musk has repeatedly said that we should be afraid of these high technologies. He’s said that “with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon,” and that it poses the “biggest existential threat to humans.”
But for the rest of us, the issue isn’t whether the Law of Accelerating Returns is good or bad. Simply that it exists.
“As humans, we are biased to think linearly,” writes Peter Diamandis, the futurist and XPRIZE CEO. “As entrepreneurs, we need to think exponentially.”
‘This reflects a very strong support among the people for what (President) Xi Jinping is doing. We are seeing an increase in participation that we haven’t seen before’