5 ways driverless cars will improve our lives.

Driverless cars could make us more productive, educated, healthier. Eventually they will transform the urban landscape.

When the Model T Ford first rolled off the production line in 1908, few people could have predicted that within a century or so, these horseless carriages would be able to drive themselves better than any human. 

The self-driving, always-connected car is becoming the technology battleground of the decade, as giants from Silicon Valley including Google, Uber and Tesla, parry with automotive giants from Detroit to Munich, over the future of travel.

The technology and automotive industries are competing to be first to market with self-driving cars that are safe on the highways.  Equipped with autonomous driving, low latency connectivity, car-to-car communications and hundreds of sensors, self-driving cars will provide automated emergency management, cloud-based infotainment and predictive analytics. At the same time, progress in electric batteries and the emergence of as-a-service business models, could mean that the future car is not one that we own but one that we call when we need a journey.

The car of the future will no longer be viewed simply as a means of getting us from A to B.  It will ‘change the way the world moves’ said Mark Fields, president and chief executive of Ford said, just as the ‘Tin Lizzie’ did all those years ago.

Here are five ways that driverless cars could improve our lives:

Safer for everyone

Humans play the biggest role in vehicle accidents.  According to the United States Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94 percent of accidents can be tied to human error.  Driverless cars could make roads safer to passengers and pedestrians.

Driverless cars will be meshed in sensors that are constantly gathering data from the changing environment they are travelling in.  These sensors include cameras, lasers and ultrasonic sensors which are continually collecting and programming data without getting tired like the human brain.  The data that driverless cars collect program them to travel at a safe distance and break faster than a human. Powerful processors for deep autonomous learning will ensure they continue to improve in performance, whilst creating a safer environment to travel in.

Get more done

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the average American spends 290 hours behind the wheel each year.  That is a huge amount of time that could be spent being productive and entertained.  Eventually driverless cars will not need a human to sit behind a wheel, ready to take control if the auto-pilot fails. Consequently, the interior will change to informal lounge style or office hot desks, complete with enhanced global conferencing facilities. The car will be a place to work, watch movies, sleep or catch up with the news or latest novel.

Cleaner air

Vehicles powered by batteries and fuel cells rather than petrol or diesel will have a dramatic impact on inner city pollution issues.  Advances in battery power will mean we will be able to make an indefinite number of charges without degrading battery life.  Trips of 1,000s of miles will be possible without a re-charge. Self-driving electric taxi cabs, for example, could cut greenhouse gas emissions from current car travel in the US by a staggering 94 percent, according to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Ownership is so yesterday

Three-quarters of UK automotive executives surveyed by KPMG think that by 2025 more than half of car owners will not want to own a vehicle, as driverless car-as-a-service takes over. This will change our relationship to car service providers. Our loyalty will depend on factors such as the availability of a car when we want one, the route it takes, the infotainment on offer and price.

Bentley, for example, is preparing the way for its future customers who it believes will have very different requirements from their limousine. “They will, for example, demand instant, unobstructed access to technology, information and convenience; have an entirely different attitude towards vehicle ownership; and live in an increasingly urbanized world with all the mobility challenges and opportunities that this presents,” Wolfgang Dürheimer, chairman and CEO of Bentley.  

In the future, Bentley will introduce more sophisticated connected car concierge services and ‘club ownership’, where ownership doesn’t relate to a single vehicle, but ‘luxury mobility solutions at selected cities around the world’.

From parking bays to parks

John Zimmer, co-founder of rideshare Lyft, notes how we have set up communities around cars, and most of the time they are parked. Various studies around the world show that cars are typically in motion for only 5-10 percent of the day, depending on the level of local traffic.  Fleets of driverless cars could change the design of our city centers and put a stop to the endless lines of parked cars down neighborhood roads and battles for a parking space, whilst cutting congestion.  The driverless car-as-a-service could be summoned on-demand by our intelligent personal assistant. With less parking needed, our streets could be widened and pedestrianized.  “That is a world built around people, not cars,” Zimmer says.

Furthermore, as the artificial intelligence (AI) in cars becomes more advanced and human-driven cars become obsolete, we can even do away with ugly road signage and traffic lights. Instead road markings will send information about upcoming hazards to connected cars, thanks to solar powered roads.

Orange is contributing to the development of connected car technology. It is working closely with Peugeot, Citroen and Ericsson on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications as well as connected services in vehicles.  Read more about the Towards 5G Connected Car Initiative.