Tech and the future of transportation

Articles about technology and the future of transportation rarely used to get far without mentioning jet-packs: a staple of science fiction from the 1920s onwards, the jet pack became a reality in the 1960s in the shape of devices such as the Bell Rocket Belt. But despite many similar efforts, the skies over our cities remain stubbornly free of jet-pack-toting commuters.

For a novel form of transport to make a material difference to our lives, several key requirements must be satisfied. Obviously the new technology must work safely, and operate within an appropriate regulatory framework. But public acceptance and solid business models are also vital if a new idea is to move from R&D lab to testbed to early adoption, and eventually into mainstream usage.

There’s inevitably a lot of hype surrounding the future of transportation, but also plenty of substance, with big investments being made both by disruptive tech companies and by incumbent industry players. Can technology help to get us and our goods around quicker, in greater safety, and with less damage to the planet?

Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs)

 

Driverless cars, or Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) are getting the lion’s share of attention, but the wider implications of CAVs and other novel forms of transport are also firmly on the agenda — including smarter, greener cities and more efficient distribution of freight and consumer deliveries.

To get an overview of a large part of this subject area, it’s worth examining Gartner’s Hype Cycle, and the 2017 status of technologies relating to connected vehicles and smart mobility:

Most of the technologies listed here are in the early stages of the progression towards mainstream adoption, according to Gartner, with only five out of 30 making it beyond the Trough of Disillusionment.

No surprise, then, that there’s a lot of activity in the CAV market. In a report published last October The Brookings Institution collated reports of “investments and transactions attributable to autonomous vehicles or core technologies” between August 2014 and June 2017, and found over 160 separate deals amounting to some $80 billion. These covered auto electronics, microchips, rideshare apps, AI/deep learning, digital mapping, non-AI software, physical systems and sensors. The authors concluded that “investment in 2018 should be substantially more than the $80 billion disclosed from 2014 to 2017, and continue upward for some period of time as the race to deploy self-driving moves on.”

At the same time, public perception of autonomous vehicle safety seems to be heading in a positive direction. In a survey last year, Gartner found that while 55 percent of respondents (from the US and Germany) would not consider travelling in a fully autonomous car, 71 percent would ride in a partially autonomous vehicle.

These findings are echoed by the Deloitte 2018 Global Automotive Consumer Study, which found that the percentage of respondents considering fully self-driving vehicles unsafe ranged from 57 percent (in Japan) to 22 percent (in Mexico). In the previous year’s survey the figures were much higher, ranging between 81 percent (S Korea) and 54 percent (Brazil):

 

Still, as Deloitte notes, there’s a way to go when it comes to the perception of fully autonomous vehicles, with “almost half of consumers in most markets doubting the safety of this technology.”

 

Levels 3 and above are considered to be ‘automated driving systems’. In a Level 3 vehicle, the system handles steering, acceleration and deceleration, and monitors the driving environment, with human intervention available on request. A fully automated Level 5 vehicle does not require a steering wheel, pedals or any other controls — humans, if present, are simply passengers.

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Special report: Tech and the future of transportation (free PDF)

This ebook, based on a special feature from ZDNet and TechRepublic, looks at emerging autonomous transport technologies and how they will affect society and the future of business.

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Many trials of autonomous vehicles are underway around the world, with the highest concentration in California, which not coincidentally provides the best statistics on traffic accidents involving them. Since 2014, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has logged 54 autonomous vehicle accident reports (as of 18 January 2018).

Reading through these reports, we judged that only four (7.4%) could be ‘blamed’ on the AV — and every one of those was under manual control at some point during the incident. Almost all were minor, low-speed accidents with no injuries, and the majority (56%) involved the AV being rear-ended by a vehicle driven by an inattentive human.

The California DMV is currently in the process of amending its regulations to allow the testing of fully autonomous vehicles without drivers (i.e. Level 5 vehicles).

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