Mobility-as-a-service: driverless cars leading the next travel revolution

The consumerist era that saw car purchases rocket and car ownership become a sign of social status or success is drawing to a close. In a world which is ever more conscious of financial, social and environmental pressures, the sole ownership of assets such as houses and cars is, plainly, out of reach for many and increasingly undesirable for others. As such, society is on the brink of a momentous shift in the way people live and how they travel.

Companies such as Airbnb, Uber and Zipcar are frequently cited as key influencers in the shifting landscape of the booming sharing economy. This new model of consumerism is now more realistic and economical in today’s society and can bring many benefits to the individual parties involved (think flexibility for the user, income for the owner/lender).

The sharing economy suits the automotive industry down to the ground. The ease and low cost of using a service like Hailo or DriveNow means that consumers do not need to abandon the idea that they can enjoy a seamless travel experience just because they don’t own a car.

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Major negatives of such platforms are hard to find, which helps to explain their popularity (especially in major cities where parking and congestion charges can quickly escalate vehicle ownership costs).

With changing ownership patterns and the advent of autonomous vehicles (AVs), we have to wonder how long it will be until we see the very concept of mobility itself changing beyond recognition.

Autonomy: the driver of change

The dawn of AVs combined with falling rates of car ownership will bring about a shift to ‘mobility-as-a-service’ (MaaS) which is likely to become the default transportation model for many developed countries around the world.

The MaaS model will change not only the way we get around, but will transform the transport and automotive sectors beyond recognition. Couple that with the speed at which this will happen – say over the next 20 years or so – and these industries will need to be prepared for significant and rapid disruption.

With this shift will come a plethora of societal benefits; from reduced cost of travel to a drop in wasted commuting time, increased road safety and a cut to vehicle emissions.

But how exactly will this shift to mobility-as-a-service play out for today’s everyday car user? Well, with these technologies and a reduction in vehicle ownership comes a radically larger scope for vehicle design, enabling a wider range of configurations to suit our different travel needs.

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All types of autonomous vehicle services will be available to be summoned at the touch of a button, from shared commuter transport at peak times that are built for maximum capacity and utility, to more comfortable vehicles for family trips or sleeper cars for overnight journeys.

New service configurations enabled by AVs will mean that users can be taken from door-to-door on a pay-as-you-go basis, with minimal wait-times and at low cost. The cheap running of these (probably electric) vehicles and the high rates of usage mean that per mile, these vehicles will be extremely cost-efficient.

In contrast to the current ownership model where cars often sit at home, unused 95 percent of the time and depreciating in value, this is a massive improvement. In today’s money, a ride will cost the equivalent of a bus journey, without government subsidy.

The effects on the automotive industry in particular will be widespread and could be keenly felt for any automaker which fails to adapt. A reduction in individual car ownership will mean reduced volume sales.

Cars may become more commoditised, with less individual attachment to certain brands or models. In fact, MaaS may favour less expensive brands from places like China and India. Furthermore, these cars will look less like the vehicles we know today and more like pods without internal controls, making for more innovative design and layouts.

The brains behind it all

Despite the exciting picture of the future painted by the combination of AVs and MaaS, there is still some way to go before we reach this point.

Technologically there are hurdles to overcome and whilst computer-vision science has already made great strides towards solving some of the challenges around perception by delivering an ability to recognise objects that is better than human sight, this advance alone isn’t sufficient in the bigger picture.

For many years, autonomous and human-operated vehicles will have to safely co-exist on the same roads during the time it takes for human-controlled vehicles to fade into obsolescence.

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As a result, AVs will have to travel in a manner that is familiar to human road users, in order to gain public acceptance and facilitate a safe road system. At the same time AVs will have to make timely progress in busy traffic, i.e. driving assertively where necessary.

To share the road with human drivers, AVs must have the ability to anticipate what is likely to happen next in a scene – taking into account humans’ sometimes irrational and unpredictable nature.

This remains an unsolved challenge, as observed by the higher than average rear-end collisions that some autonomous vehicles experience in testing on the open road.

In addition, system validation and safety standards need to be addressed by the industry, and at a political level so do current EU limitations on the 10mph speed allowed for automatically steered vehicles.

These are not simple problems to solve by any means, but the prize for success is huge in societal terms. When AVs can safely deliver end-to-end journeys anywhere, with zero occupancy where necessary, there will be a huge drive towards consumption of mobility-as-a-service and all of the advantages this will bring.

>See also: UK public ready to trial driverless shuttle bus

FiveAI believes the safest approach is to avoid sharing any element of the driving task with humans. Its system will be capable of handling any situation that it comes across without any human intervention.

This is known as Level 5 autonomy, and although it’s a more difficult technical challenge than lower levels of automation, we believe it’s the only truly safe option.

Autonomous vehicles will dramatically change the economics of personal mobility. They will irreversibly revolutionise how people travel and their relationships with road vehicles.

This, in turn, will change the automotive industry, public transport and whole swathes of the global population and how they interact with technology on a daily basis. There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered but the excitement and anticipation is tangible. Finally: a better, slicker, faster, cleaner future is on its way.


Sourced by Stan Boland, CEO, FiveAI

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...