Paths to adoption of driverless vehicles

How will autonomous vehicle technology enter our lives? The discussion has not yet really begun, but here are the main lines of thought:

  • Gradual evolution: Autonomous technology will evolve functionally, first assisting the driver with singular tasks (lane control, collision warning, adaptive cruise control). More and more functions will be integrated until the car is able to drive autonomously in all situations. This is the currently dominant view, but it ignores much of the economic implications and transformation potentials of the technology.
  • Mobility service provider: Driverless cars will be introduced in high density urban centers where the percentage of non-car owners is already high, parking space is at a premium and most trips are relatively short-distance. They will be operated by mobility (car-sharing) providers. These networks will quickly spread nationwide, profit from economies of scale, and be able to offer personal mobility at significantly reduced total costs (our estimate is that a factor of 2 should be attainable from the start). For economic reasons alone, more and more people will dispense with their cars and switch to car-sharing.
  • Avalanche: Driverless car technology will gradually mature to a point where its economic and transformative potential becomes obvious. Decision makers realize that this technology will switch a large part of the mobility market from individual ownership to a mobility service provider / car-sharing model. Now the market players race to secure their position in the new market structure. Given the size of the mobility market at stake, enormous amounts of capital will be moved by current auto makers, governments and new entrants. Auto makers may be hardest hit as the volume demand for cars may shrink by a factor of 10 because of the much higher efficiency of the mobility service provider / car sharing model.

Some older or more specialized ideas:

  • Dedicated lanes: Autonomous technology will be introduced on dedicated lanes on highways or in the city. This is one of the oldest models. It has already been realized for low-intelligence autonomous pods in various locations (Heathrow Airport, Rotterdam). But this model can not lead to high adoption rates because of the high infrastructure costs for dedicated lanes. Furthermore, current autonomous technology can safely operate in mixed traffic without dedicated lanes.
  • Platoons of cars or trucks: Autonomous cars can use road capacity more efficiently by keeping shorter distances. This reduces fuel consumption and congestion. However, there are legal hurdles and problems of operating such platoons in mixed autonomous and non-autonomous traffic.


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