The Economist looks at autonomous vehicles. The article glows with the familiar wild optimism of Silicon Valley hubris, and none of it will come to pass quickly, in my opinion. When and if it does, it will involve wrenching changes in the insurance industry among others, and it may be relegated (regulated?) to specific niches.
The vision of a driverless vehicle safely travelling our complex and changeable streets seems to me a utopia set in a future far, far away. But, in the quest for unimaginable riches, practicality has a way of taking a back seat (get it?) to the visionary.
But Uber’s ambitions, and the expectations underpinning its valuation, extend much further: using self-driving vehicles, it wants to make ride-hailing so cheap and convenient that people forgo car ownership altogether. Not satisfied with shaking up the $100-billion-a-year taxi business, it has its eye on the far bigger market for personal transport, worth as much as $10 trillion a year globally.
Uber is not alone in this ambition. Companies big and small have recognised the transformative potential of electric, self-driving cars, summoned on demand. Technology firms including Apple, Google and Tesla are investing heavily in autonomous vehicles; from Ford to Volvo, incumbent carmakers are racing to catch up. An epic struggle looms. It will transform daily life as profoundly as cars did in the 20th century: reinventing transport and reshaping cities, while also dramatically reducing road deaths and pollution . . .
. . . Self-driving cars will reinforce trends unleashed by ride-hailing, making it cheaper and more accessible. The disabled, the old and the young will find it easier to go where they want. Many more people will opt out of car ownership altogether. An OECD study that modelled the use of self-driving cars in Lisbon found that shared autonomous vehicles could reduce the number of cars needed by 80-90%. As car ownership declines, the enormous amount of space devoted to parking—as much as a quarter of the area of some American cities—will be available for parks and housing instead.