What’s Driving Connected Cars?

Connected cars look set to be hitting their stride by the mid-2020’s, enabled by 5G, high- or full-automation, and enhanced vehicular (V2X) connectivity. And when they do, you might not even own a car. You’ll certainly be less likely to die in a road accident, as there’ll be far fewer fatal incidents than the 1.4 million that now happen each year worldwide. Twenty million fully autonomous vehicles will be on the roads in 2025, accounting for 1% of the total, with this number set to reach 40% in some cities by 2030.

These vehicles will be completely aware of not just other cars, but of cyclists, pedestrians, car thieves, traffic lights, and other infrastructure. Detailed hazard mapping will identify dangers like potholes, while internal and external audio-video fields will provide strong protection against car theft and damage, with motion sensors, cloud storage, and real-time alerts sent to phones, rendering autonomous cars virtually unstealable.

A clutch of big names are already making inroads with trials. Ford and Intel are working on a joint facial recognition project, while Volkswagen is researching infra-red scans to ID would-be drivers (and would-be thieves).

However, there’s no guarantee that you’ll even be using this tech to protect your own car come 2025, as the attractiveness and affordability of owning one is likely to drop. In the US, the average car costs nearly US$25 per day to run – over US$9,000 per year. And the average car is used just 4% of the time, which works out to just 58 minutes per day. Economically, car ownership will soon make little sense – renting a taxi will make a lot more.

By 2025, biometric tech will probably be verifying you for a driverless car you’ve called on an app, with the ID process tailoring the in-car experience based on your usage history to your preferred music, preferred temperature, and so on.

Green is good

This driverless on-demand model will also be good for the planet. It’s predicted that one autonomous car will be able to replace about 30 manned cars under the on-demand model, drastically cutting the total number of cars on the road. And when full autonomy and electric vehicles become commonplace, traffic flow will be faster and smoother, with less smog to contend with. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, motor vehicles produce roughly 50% of all air pollutants, including VOCs, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter – the effect of driverless cars on the air we breathe and our health will be huge.

What’s more, an estimated 94% of road accidents are caused by human error. Driverless tech’s V2X advantages are complemented by an AI driver who doesn’t booze, doze, text, or pull risky maneuvers. Solving these issues will have a big impact on our overall sense of well-being,

But the switchover to autonomous driving won’t happen overnight. Semi-autonomous Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) will ease consumers into the passenger seat with functions such as lane changing, adaptive cruise control, and automated braking. It’s predicted that people will start feeling comfortable taking the backseat by 2021, and that’s when the market will really shift into high gear. Right now, however, AAA surveys in 2016 and 2017 reveal that, “Three-quarters of U.S. drivers report feeling afraid to ride in a self-driving car.”

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Autonomous Yet Connected

What does a new era of road safety mean on a networked scale? With every component in an intelligent car constantly generating data, a single vehicle could be producing up to 1 GB of data per second, which means that a cloud solution for the Internet of Vehicles (IoV) would need to receive that 1 GB in one second to fully understand the real-time status of a single cloud-controlled vehicle. If one car detects and then brakes to avoid a jaywalker, the ripple effect will also cause the cars behind it to break. The network may then consider re-routing traffic to avoid a potential traffic jam. 4G isn’t capable of the 1ms latency required for this scenario, and IoV therefore requires the sub-1 ms latency afforded by 5G.

Disruption Ahead

Driverless cars are destined to be one of the biggest disruptors that most people alive today will experience. In terms of the cars, because of constant use, the service life of autonomous vehicles will be relatively short compared with today’s under-utilized cars. Most autonomous vehicles are likely to be smaller than today’s four or more seaters, because they’ll be designed for single-occupancy journeys. Today, roughly 75% of car journeys are single-occupancy, and this is unlikely to change. As a result, driverless “cars” may be more likely to resemble connectable driverless pods, rendering today’s form-factors obsolete. Two Italian designers are looking at developing this new mode of transport for release in 2020, where a series of pods could connect into a mini-train.

In terms of the people, an estimated one in four employment options will be consigned to history as a slew of economic sectors will be impacted by self-driving cars, including driving, petroleum, auto manufacturing, maintenance, and even the hospitality industry (fewer motels). However, job losses will be offset by job creation as new businesses arise from the innovation and possibilities created by this amazing new vertical.

Cities are also set for massive change as the speeding fines, gas tax, parking fees, and other traffic-related fees that can account for 50% or more of their revenue begin to disappear. Some re-zoning is also likely as cities become cleaner, safer, and quieter. Parking lots, for example, will be ripe locations for redevelopment in cities like Los Angeles, where 14 percent of the city is designated for parking.

Business locations also won’t be as important as journey times become quicker. People can work or be entertained en route, so their perception of distance is likely to change. Volvo’s Concept 26 reflects the belief that the 26 minutes you commute each day “could be spent doing something more meaningful,” including watching video. Chevrolet is working with Future Lab to create interactive VR displays on rear passenger windows, while Lockheed Martin pulled off something similar in 2016 on a school bus. In partnership with VR specialists Framestore and McCann, they displayed the surface of Mars on the windows, giving children the impression they were traveling across the planet’s surface. The tech included a virtual 3D map of the red planet, a laser surface velocimeter, GPS, and custom screens.

Some of this disruption will require careful planning, but the overall picture is one of a considerably better quality of life. As noted futurist Glen Hiemstra puts it, “Eventually, pleasure driving will go the way of horseback riding for pleasure – a niche activity and a public racing spectacle.”

How do you feel about the possibility of never driving again?

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