Autonomous vehicles: a driving force for the future
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Autonomous vehicles (AV) are operated by a range of technologies including millimetre-wave radars, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, lidar scanners, GPS technology, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity, and proprietary algorithms. These work together seamlessly to perform the entire dynamic driving task in all situations and conditions throughout an entire journey.
The potential impact of autonomous vehicles is nothing short of revolutionary. Wide-scale adoption will lead to unprecedented economic, social and environmental change. For the public, the independence and freedom of personal travel will be available to almost everyone – youth, seniors and the physically, mentally and visually impaired. The expected reduction of road congestion would bring wide-ranging work and personal benefits. The gains from a drop in vehicle accidents and deaths are obvious.
The widespread commercial realization of AVs in the immediate future is hindered by technical constraints, legislative wariness, infrastructure barriers, unpredictable consumer acceptance and cost of development. Consequently, the production of AVs will require a full transformation of automotive operations and their support ecosystem.
The route to critical mass adoption of AVs isn’t clear. Acceptance may occur after years of incremental introductions of discrete autonomous functions (‘assisted driving’) or more quickly, through the direct development of radical new ‘self-driving’ technology. Major players are pursuing one or both of these approaches.¹ In September 2016, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) made the regulation of autonomous vehicles a matter for federal government. In place of the old self-certification system, the DOT will inspect and approve (or not) all new technologies before they can be deployed. Given the speed of technological development in the field, the DOT has acknowledged it will probably need to update its rules annually.
For the time being, despite the attempts of nontraditional players such as Google and Uber to drive market disruption, autonomous cars won’t be completely driverless. In Pittsburgh, where Uber launched self-driving Ford Focus vehicles this fall,² each SUV will have a safety driver and Uber test engineer on board to handle manual driving when needed and monitor progress with the tests.³
Case study: General Motors – ‘super cruise’
While saying its autonomous car is 5 to 15 years away, General Motors is continually adding assisted driving features such as crash avoidance, lane warning and automatic parking assistance.⁴ In late 2016, it will begin selling its Cadillac CT6 with ‘super cruise’, which will make hands-free highway driving possible while the car maintains speed, lane position and vehicle separation. This kind of adaptive cruise control will later be available in mid-price vehicles.
Case study: Comma.ai – Open Pilot
In November 2016, San Francisco-based start-up Comma.ai made the code behind its assisted driving software available for free. Its Open Pilot technology is designed to be retrofitted in cars already on the road. The firm, founded by well-known hacker George Hotz, has also released a guide to 3D-printing its Comma Neo box, which replaces the rear-view mirror. The box uses cameras and advanced data processing to offer lane assistance and adaptive cruise control in selected car models.
Statista expects the global market for AVs to grow from €9.5 billion in 2016 to €39.6 billion in 2021.⁵ In the longer term, we estimate there will be approximately $144 billion in value at stake for the automotive industry over the next 10 years as new business models emerge, linked to self-driving vehicles and multimodal integration. And the magnitude of impact should be significantly higher beyond 2025 when technological development allows for mass adoption to occur.⁶
Applications in industry
According to the International Transport Forum, the volume of freight on the road will almost quadruple between 2010 and 2050.⁷ In that time, autonomous delivery vans should optimize last-mile deliveries to consumers, but the biggest changes might come in B2B logistics.
It is increasingly plausible to imagine a future for e-commerce in which the goods a consumer orders online are delivered to their doorstep by an automated robot deployed via an ‘aircraft carrier model’. An autonomous vehicle drives to a designated point, from which several robots disperse, including one to deliver the customer’s single, consolidated container of goods.
Further down the supply chain, Mercedes-Benz is already pioneering autonomous trucks,⁸ which promise to reduce operating costs, road accidents and CO2 emissions,⁹ and Daimler recently tested its autonomous Freightliner Inspiration Truck on roads in the US state of Nevada.¹⁰
Moving in convoys, autonomous trucks avoid unnecessary overtaking and, by using the slipstream of the vehicle in front and optimizing accelerations and decelerations, they can reduce fuel consumption by up to 12%.¹¹ Moreover, autonomous technology could prevent 90% of crashes that are caused by distracted or drowsy drivers.¹² Convoy trucking marks the start of the process of automating truck deliveries and will see drivers take responsibility for two or more autonomous vehicles. These drivers could be more productive behind the wheel, handling logistics and maintenance issues that would otherwise create a dangerous distraction while driving.
Case study: Rio Tinto – The Mine of the Future
Even further upstream, mining and metals multinational Rio Tinto has the world’s largest fleet of autonomous trucks to deliver loads more efficiently, minimize delays and reduce fuel use. The trucks are operated remotely, helping ensure greater operational safety. The company admits that skilled people will always be needed to oversee autonomous systems, noting that changing technology provides employees with the chance to develop and better use their skills in new work environments.¹³
Unlocking value to society
Reduced costs of vehicle ownership, lower premiums, reduced crash costs, reduced maintenance costs, fuel savings and lower carbon emissions are among the consumer and societal benefits of autonomous vehicles.
Our analysis of the automotive industry alone suggests assisted driving and self-driving vehicles can deliver a combined $3 trillion in value to consumers and wider society over the next decade. We estimate they can save 1.2 million lives in that period, and reduce emissions by 540 million metric tonnes over the next 10 years. Further benefits could come from:¹⁴
- Increased mobility for those currently unable to drive (blind, disabled, too old, too young)
- Reduced opportunity cost of time in the car as occupants can undertake other activities
- Reduced cost of congestion
- Less need for proximate parking, allowing for greater development of cities
However, there are some negative effects to anticipate, since the technology will disrupt existing institutions: undermining parking revenues; drawing riders away from public transit systems; taking away professional drivers their jobs; impacting the ‘crash economy’ of insurance companies; damaging the business of body shops.
To reap the rewards and mitigate any adverse impacts of autonomous vehicles, there are some challenges to be overcome:
- Workforces in the machine age. Automation should be introduced into operations in a way that complements the contribution of human workers.
- Working through digital ethics. For example, should an autonomous vehicle prioritize the safety of its occupants over that of other road users?¹⁵
- Clarity on insurance liability. Instead of driver behaviour, liability could fall on a car’s manufacturer, the software designer, device maker, map producer, the company that made the sensors in the highway or the vehicle, the operator, the passenger or the vehicle’s owner.¹⁶
- The right regulatory framework. Over-regulation in initial phase could thwart maturation of technology.
- Public trust. The adoption of new technology is a process of social learning. For the market to develop, the public must feel comfortable with autonomous vehicles.
From our DTI research, we have identified several technologies (3D printing, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, big data analytics and the cloud, the Internet of Things and connected devices, and robots and drones) that are having major impacts across the 13 industries analysed to date. This article is one of a series looking at how each of these technologies is transforming business and wider society.
1 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Automotive Industry, 2016, p 12.
2 Brewster, Signe, “Uber starts self-driving car pickups in Pittsburgh”, Tech Crunch, 14 September 2016.
3 Etherington, Darrell, “Uber’s self-driving cars start picking up passengers in San Francisco”, Tech Crunch, 14 December 2016.
4 GM, Automatic parking assist standard on every SS [Press release], 30 July 2014. Gaudin, Sharon, “GM says it’s open to talks with Google, working on self-driving tech”, Computerworld, 13 January 2015. Rynkiewicz, Stephen, “Advanced safety features showcase the future of cars”, Chicago Tribune, 4 February 2015.
5 Statista, Projected autonomous driving revenue in the US, 2016 and 2021.
6 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Automotive Industry, 2016.
7 International Transport Forum, Global trade: International freight transport to quadruple by 2050 [Press release], 27 January 2015.
8 Guerrini, Federico, “Will technology make truck drivers obsolete in 10 years?”, Forbes, 31 January 2015.
9 Ozimek, Adam, “The Massive Economic Benefits of Self-Driving Cars”, Forbes, 8 November 2014.
10 Gorzelany, Jim, “Self-driving semi is king of the road”, Forbes, 6 May 2015.
11 Accenture estimate based on: Roland Berger, On the road toward the autonomous truck, 2015.
12 Newcomb, Doug, “Daimler Autonomous Truck Has Huge Commercial Implications”, Forbes, 8 May 2015.
13 Rio Tinto, Next-generation mining: People and technology working together, 2014.
14 Anderson, James M., Nidhi Kalra, Karlyn D. Stanley, Paul Sorensen, Constantine Samaras and Oluwatobi A. Oluwatola, Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers, Rand Corporation, 2016.
15 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Societal Implications, 2016.
16 Insurance Information Institute, Self-driving cars and insurance, July 2016.