I read something yesterday that started me thinking about autonomous cars.
Imagine two cars driving down the road at 100KMH, one being driven by a human and one autonomously. An animal, or God forbid a human, suddenly appears in its path.
In the case of the human driven car, 13% of drivers won’t even see the animal before the point of impact — sadly, they were distracted in that moment, and were perhaps checking the rear view mirror, or adjusting the radio. But let’s stay for a moment with the 87% who do see it. Depending on their age, they will take between 1.5 and 5 seconds to get their foot onto the brake.
In the autonomous car, the animal will be “seen” 100% of the time. The car’s systems will shut the throttle and apply the brakes in 0.1 of a second. How staggering is that?
It started me thinking about the future of transport, and I think it’s pretty exciting. When I was a kid you could buy an E-type Jaguar or a mini. Fifty years later, you can buy an F Type Jaguar or a Mini. The basic architecture of the cars you can buy now, versus those you could by in the 1960’s is essentially the same. Small or large internal combustion engines, driving front or rear wheels through manual or automatic gearboxes, controlled by inputs through pedals and steering wheels. Nothing has really changed in my lifetime.
I drove my very modern car from home to Puerto del Carmen this morning, and if could time travel someone from 1966 to the present day, he or she would be able to jump straight into my car and drive it without any problem at all. As I say, nothing has changed.
But a few years ago Tesla came along and totally disrupted the market. First with usable, high performance electric power, then with over the air software updates, and most recently with their first steps into autonomous driving. Thanks to their work, every major manufacturer is now working on cars that drive themselves, and they are talking confidently about what their cars will be able to do in the next few years.
Here’s what I think it will look like:
By 2025, my car will be fully autonomous. For this morning’s trip, I would have got into it, set the sat nav to my destination and caught up on work during the journey. In fact, if I had a Tesla, it could do that now for me, but by 2025 every car will have the ability to do it. The car will still have conventional inputs, so I could take the wheel and pedals if I wanted or needed to.
By 2035, I won’t own a car. As a Volkswagen customer, I’ll open an app on my phone and summon a car to pick me up at my house at 0800 for a trip to Puerto del Carmen. The car will drive itself here, and pre-set the temperature, seat and stereo to my liking. I’ll hop in and it will drive me to my meeting, communicating with other cars on the roads to find out about traffic and weather, and selecting the best route. Once I get to my meeting, I will either send it away or ask it to wait for the return journey. My card will be billed for driving minutes and waiting minutes. The “car” won’t even have a steering wheel or pedals.
If the cars are dirty, they will take themselves to a car wash, if they need attention, they will contact the nearest dealer and drive themselves there. As their charge runs low, they will take themselves to the nearest charging station and plug themselves in.
I think we’ll see more change in personal transport in the next 20 years than we have in the 120 years since Karl Benz built the first motor car. I think that’s pretty exciting, don’t you?