In the automotive sector, few concepts inspire imaginations as much as autonomous vehicles. Once the preserve of science fiction, self-driving cars are now mere years away from reaching the mass market. However, the technology behind autonomous vehicles is already very real. Manufacturers like Tesla equips all of their vehicles with self-driving technology as standard. At the same time, other big hitters like Volvo have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into autonomous technology and software development. It’s not just major manufacturers that can take advantage of the autonomous revolution. Even smaller enterprises can capitalize on the trend through IT outsourcing and contracting external developers.
This is just a tiny fraction of the many development deals and partnerships falling within the autonomous vehicle sector. While much focus has been placed upon steering a shift toward electric cars, the rise in autonomous technology can’t be ignored. It’s estimated that the market value for autonomous vehicles and associated technologies will be worth upwards of half a trillion US dollars by 2035. If manufacturers maintain their commitments, autonomous vehicles may account for a quarter of all new vehicle sales within the next two decades.
The Benefits of Autonomous Technology
Despite some bad press, the benefits of autonomous driving technology to the consumer can’t be dismissed. Autonomous technology will dramatically change the way consumers interact with their vehicles. In turn, this will impact the automotive industry as a whole.
Autonomous Technology Will Change How We Use Our Vehicles
In-vehicle software has already refined the way many of us use our vehicles. Satellite navigation has been around for decades, with readily affordable GPS units being accessible since the turn of the century. This technology has had a significant effect on journey times, negating the need for manual route planning. Meanwhile, real-time traffic updates decrease journey times even more. In-car entertainment systems have also been a staple for many years, although passengers tend to benefit far more from these features than drivers.
While the aforementioned technologies have alleviated the pressures of driving, autonomous technology will redefine driving entirely. In the United States, it’s estimated that the average driver spends more than 293 hours behind the wheel in any given year. By introducing autonomy to vehicles, it’s expected that more motorists will commit to longer road journeys.
Furthermore, motorists who may have been reluctant to get behind the wheel may rethink their relationship with driving. Older drivers lacking confidence in their driving ability or disabled individuals can lean on autonomous technology. Limited physical mobility is no longer a barrier to driving for considerable differences. More people will likely embrace driving and be committed to longer individual journeys.
The average road journey involves some idle time. As the automotive industry introduces autonomous software and hardware as standards, idle time will increase. This will free up drivers to concentrate on other things. Some may choose to spend this time pursuing in-car entertainment, while others may choose to socialize via mobile devices. Idle time may also be utilized for work purposes, reducing the need for conventional office-based activities.
A Shift Away Personal Ownership
This is one possible implication of autonomous driving technology. Once vehicles become largely autonomous, mobility as a service (Maas) may become the dominant trend on the roads. Although statistics show that more people are purchasing their own vehicles, there’s been a significant shift towards the used car market. Furthermore, the assumed status of buying a car has diminished in recent years. In the United States, fewer young people are attaining driving licenses, meaning car ownership statistics are likely to decrease in the years ahead.
These figures do not bode well for the traditional automotive market. However, they don’t necessarily mean bad news for the automated automotive sector. Over the past decade, the appetite for on-demand MaaS providers has skyrocketed. The popularity of car-sharing services has also increased. As self-driving technology proves, on-demand ride services and automation will likely combine to produce a thriving new market.
What’s Next for the Self-Driving Sector?
Although many companies have committed to software and hardware development, self-pilot driving schemes are few and far between. In the next few years, expect to see more highway pilot schemes happening around the country. Once these have been rolled out at scale, self-driving vehicles will become a more permanent fixture of the landscape.
However, don’t expect to see automotive vehicles penetrate every market and territory just yet. Many technology aspects require considerable refinement, while regulatory acceptance will still need to be attained for these vehicles to be deployed in any significant number. Once regulatory support has been granted, autonomous vehicles and on-demand services are almost certain to proliferate cosmopolitan centers and urban areas first. Expect to see self-driving on-demand ride services appear in the United States and East Asia before becoming commonplace elsewhere.
Transport and Logistics
The transport and logistics sector also looks set to benefit from self-driving technology. In the United States and Canada, numerous pilot schemes are underway to test the effectiveness and safety of autonomous fleets. Although these tests are still being carried out under the watching eye of a driver, technological advancements will soon negate the need for one. If all goes well, self-driving logistics fleets should be commercially available within the next few years.
Continued Development and Innovation
Even once self-driving technology becomes safe to deploy on the roads, the industry will continue to flourish. As previously mentioned, Tesla is manufacturing vehicles with the capabilities to accept future software. It’s software that will ultimately determine how successful automated vehicles will be in practice. Hardware development is still a concern, but once production costs become more affordable, even second-tier manufacturers will be able to utilize these components.
For manufacturers, securing the best talent ensures they thrive in a post-driver world. Due to the high costs of automotive development, many companies may choose to embrace partnerships with rivals or invest in promising startups. Ultimately, a move to automation will result in seismic shifts both behind the scenes and the wheel.