Hi Fred —
Agreed, low-speed/low-stakes shuttles promise to be among the first vehicles on the market. In various iterations, they’re quite real as an opportunity: many of the lowest barriers to entry for AVs are prime real estate for shuttles (gated communities, shopping districts looking to ban cars, last-mile patches for cities with mass transit gaps, campuses as you mentioned, etc.)
If I had to peg the year when we’ll start seeing shuttle rollouts, I’d say 2020… I know that sounds off-the-cuff, but you can read more on the prediction here if you’ve got nothing better going on today: https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-next-decade-of-traffic-looks-like-this-c732f5fcbf73
Re: competing initial phases, this is how I think about the go-to-market:
Eventually, virtually everything related to transportation converges (maybe not into the same execution, but from an integration standpoint, and likely the underlying autonomous guidance software.) Some points of origin are already fairly efficient, or about as efficient as they’ll be without major infrastructure changes: air, sea, and rail transit. So those won’t be initial disruption points.
Where you will see initial market impact is in the three areas below:
Road-driven supply & distribution. The 18-wheelers, the drones, the mobile stores, the automated warehouse equipment… some of this doesn’t resemble “autonomous cars”, so a lot of folks fail to make the connection. But Amazon is just as big a player in the future of transportation as Ford, as far as I’m concerned.
Shuttles & other low-speed “Level 4" vehicles. Find environments where edge cases can be easily marginalized, and where speed + convenience are nice-to-haves rather than expectations. That’s where the shuttles come in, and as consumer adoption grows, those vehicles will get broader in their use cases and (somewhat) faster in speeds.
Traditional automobiles. This is the slow death of the conventional car. Most of the carmakers are basically walking a plank they created for themselves… and in walking it as slowly as possible, they’re developing half-assed solutions which turn your car into a safety bubble. At some point, the viability of that traditional consumer market will break down, and you’ll see traditional automobiles converge with the “shuttle” path. That’s not to say we won’t have different vehicles for 80mph travel than we will for 20mph travel; just that the infrastructure and policy changes coming down the pike will mainly target cars, and will therefore revolve around turning traditional traffic into an organized, utilitarian system. That’s when it starts to meet up with air transit, shipping logistics, etc.