What to expect with the driverless revolution
We have just entered the fourth industrial revolution.
The first, in the second half of the 1700's gave birth to mechanized production in the textile and metal industries thanks to the steam engine. The second started in 1870 with the advent of electricity, chemical products and the advent of the internal combustion engine. This consequently led to an increase in using petrol as a new energy source. The third takes hold in 1970 with the birth of computing. This leads to the digital age designed to increase the levels of automation by using electronic and IT (Information Technology) systems. The third industrial revolution also includes all the transformation processes in the manufacturing structure. More generally, a transformation of the entire socio-economic fabric, beginning from the mid-20th century in developed countries and characterized by a strong drive towards technological innovation, closely linked to the rise of computers, robots, the first spacecraft and satellites.
The fourth industrial revolution will be the most disruptive as it will bring about changes to the labor market never seen before. New skills will be needed, while more than 50% of our current ones are destined to disappear.
Artificial intelligence brings human intelligence into machines, from Automation to intelligent and cognitive automation.
The most apparent and disruptive effects will be in the world of transport.
There are already smart public transport systems in circulation. These are cars that despite not having reached the much more evolved stage of autonomous driving, already have a high degree of technological complexity, and possess some advanced features, such as assisted or autonomous parking, and automatic adaptive speed control. These latter systems are already commercially available on vehicles made by various manufacturers.
Before long, there will be many vehicles with autonomous driving. Compared to smart vehicles, autonomous driving vehicles feature a much higher level of complexity. In fact, the artificial intelligence algorithms are so sophisticated that they can sense the landscape, plan the route, determine the situations, in a completely autonomously manner and with a degree of accuracy far superior to that of humans. One of the main related aspects, and by no means an easy problem to solve, is the safety of operators and passengers in these new scenarios, which open up new ethical issues, which have never been tackled before. How should the software running your car react: run over pedestrians on the pavement or put the safety of passengers at risk? Moreover, more generally, how acceptable is this solution?
Because of this, we will have to rethink the planning of intelligent transport, thanks to accurate predictive models of individual’s behavior, and the networks of sensors connected to a large system. In the future, cities will be able to organize transport in a much more efficient and economically viable manner. However, the adoption of advanced detection and information gathering capabilities, including drones and related transportation systems, gives rise to numerous security issues, in terms of privacy of personal information.
Furthermore, interaction between people goes far beyond Facebook. In the future vehicles will have to be able to carry out almost all the jobs of a traditional driver. What will the interaction between such sophisticated means and human beings be? First of all, machines must be able to learn in depth our preferences, commands and even people's attitudes. However, from the point of view of humans, we have to develop new approaches and behavior, and get used to interacting with systems that carry out their duties in almost total autonomy, so they can address them more efficiently.
One of the main impacts will be making a large-scale separation between ownership and car use.
Already today, many people in big cities no longer own a car, thanks to services like Uber or Lyft.
We know that vehicles are only used 5-10% of the time. This makes them an asset, which is staggeringly underused. It is estimated that switching to a mobility service based on autonomous cars used by more than one person during the day could lead to halving the number of vehicles on the road.
In the USA alone, even transporting goods employs 3.5 million drivers, of which 1.6 million are driving on motorways. According to an estimate by Morgan Stanley, a move to trucks driving autonomously would allow savings of $ 168 billion/annually and avoid a large proportion of the 3.900 deaths and 100.000 injuries, which occur annually linked to road transport-related accidents in the United States.
It will be necessary to strengthen the motorway infrastructures as transport on the road will be "automatic" and grow enormously compared to today. We can imagine lines of intelligent trucks that interact with each other, traveling a few centimeters from each other, creating a kind of new large infinite train that crosses continents.
The automation of trucks is obviously closer than the more complex challenge of autonomous driving in the city. Truckers and others are becoming very worried. In fact, the economic repercussions would be vast and impact on other jobs too. Just think of the roadside cafeterias associated with this activity. We can therefore imagine a resistance far fiercer compared to that of taxi drivers against Uber.
What will be the impact in cities? Public transport will be completely transformed by this competition. We could see a revival by combining the use of driverless vehicles that can take users everywhere.
The result would be much urban centers that are less polluted, as we are talking about electric vehicles. The areas will be less congested, with traffic areas "freed" and most parking lots redundant. Therefore, new room for cycle lanes - bikes will be safer - and urban green spaces.
If we read these developments in the light of climate change, which in the meantime will have accelerated their impacts, we can draw a very positive assessment. A massive reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and an increase of green areas useful for mitigating the effects of increasing temperatures.
Actually, by broadening the analysis to the various productive sectors, the upheavals could be even greater.
According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, the use of gasoline in the US could in fact be reduced by one third by 2030 thanks to the rapid spread of the autonomous car.
We will be able to begin redesigning our cities, our countries and our physical infrastructure, it’s going to be a real revolution.
The future will be to create an integrated transport network with everything interconnected, including cars, buses, trucks, etc. And finally we can move towards a connected, low-carbon world.