The widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) promises to bring about a transformation in convenience for users. Proponents of AVs cite a host of benefits that will make automobile transport greener, safer and faster. But, as with any emerging technology, there are risks.
What is missing from many debates, however, is what do car owners feel about this? For owners of conventional vehicles, their relationship with their cars and how this is likely to change will be key. If not addressed, the role of the motor vehicle in our society and its connection with our sense of identity and status could prove significant challenges to the deployment of AVs. If we get the technology right, the benefits of moving to significant AV deployment are potentially huge. Such a system could result in great reductions in the volume, severity and cost of road collisions – problems transport planners have been grappling with for decades. Autonomous vehicles use artificial intelligence (AI) and digital sensors to analyse data relating to demand, delays and constraints across networks.
This means they can respond with increased capacity, timetable changes and updates to passengers in real time to make better use of the latent capacity within our transport system. The result is less congestion, more efficient journeys and reductions in fuel consumption. Emissions will also be reduced thanks to electric propulsion systems installed in fully autonomous vehicles. In addition, mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) providers operating ‘available on demand’ AV services represent a cheaper alternative to owning a car. Overall, there would be a need for fewer cars across the network and, when not in use, vehicles could be kept on the outskirts of cities. This could free up huge chunks of kerbside real estate and allow parking lots to be repurposed. No longer will large areas of land be required to accommodate parking; instead these areas will be redeveloped to provide parks and new public spaces, resulting in a cleaner, healthier and happier society.
Successful deployment of AVs is not just about the technology. While work continues on developing the technical solutions to support widespread AV deployment, the path to solving these problems is relatively clear and will be solved in time. What is less understood is the relationship drivers have with their vehicles and how a change in this intangible relationship will be affected by autonomy. To transition to the adoption of AVs as part of a fully integrated and connected network, manufacturers and policymakers will need to address these issues to convince a public so ingrained with the conventional transport network.