Driverless cars: a digital future for the automotive sector
By Phil Harrold, PwC
You used to get up at six, now you get up at eight; shower, take a leisurely breakfast, and when you’re good and ready you tap an app on your phone to call a car. Within minutes, the closest of the pool vehicles arrives. You recognise some of your neighbours aboard; they have already boarded from nearby call-points. Sharing this way frees up space on the road, reduces the cost, and as the car can calculate the most efficient pick-up route from the hub, extra pick-ups won’t cost anyone time. You plug in your seat-belt; a formality. Accidents are a rarity since the removal of human drivers; computer-activated breaking far outstrips the reaction time of a human brain. En route you tap into the roadway wi-fi and take the opportunity to charge your phone, using the same technology that the car uses on the road to charge its electric power cells. The air in this city is fume-free, the roads unclogged with vehicles, and the best part? You always get a seat.
By 2025, it is estimated that 57% of the world’s population will live in cities. This causes obvious issues; the transport system is overstretched, the roads heave with traffic and rising air-pollution starts to cause mass health concerns. Enter then, the transport of the future: a car that drives itself, that runs on clean energy, quicker, cheaper and more efficient than even the tube.
It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds: recent innovation in the automotive industry and the integration of digital with it is making some serious headway, with new technology being tested by several tech and automotive partnerships, keen to be first to the post when it eventually becomes commonplace.
Driverless cars, for example, have been around for years. They’ve already been trialled by the likes of Renault, Mercedes-benz, Toyota, Nissan and more recently Google, whose pod cars have been happily (and famously) driving themselves as part of a proof of concept exercise in the UK for several years, accident free. In Spain, Volvo have teamed up with several tech companies on the Sartre project to show how computer driven lorries can drive 6 metres apart in a convoy safely, easing congestion and accidents in the process.
These partnerships raise significant questions for the car manufacturer. Historically, they simply built cars and alongside them their brands. But now, when these power-brands must partner with others, such as Apple or Microsoft, to harness their much-desired digital expertise and to create a unique selling point for the product, whose brand gets stamped on it?
If the driverless car concept is successful it could change the structure and set-up of car ownership. If pool cars are readily available, comfortable and reliable, it will become more cost effective to pay as you go, rather than to continue with the constraints of car ownership. With the rising cost and stress related with commuting, it might also be a convenient choice for tired commuters. If the idea of driverless car-pooling becomes commonplace, it could reduce the number of cars on the roads, reduce emissions and free up parking spaces and garages to provide much needed housing and green space. This in turn would promote investment in infrastructure, such as Wi-Fi masts and on-road charging facilities, creating more opportunities for a much wider breadth of industries.
Added to this the growing demand for the connectivity of things, allowing your phone to sync with your car (already being tested by Apple with its AppleCar app), and not actually having to drive, means live streaming, watching the tennis or the latest Game of Thrones as it is broadcast, is not far away.
This innovation is not without its issues. Should an accident happen between driverless vehicles who is at fault? A car unlocked by a computer code is also open to that code being cloned and used. Mass car-pools only have relevance in areas with high-density populations. Innovation however is about overcoming the obstacles and the industry is moving a step closer to new solutions every day.
A recent demonstration showcased a steering wheel that could monitor the driver’s health by detecting changes in their blood pressure, with the added bonus of detecting whether you’ve had one too many at the pub. The car of the future now becomes your chauffeur, your work hub, your health professional. In the fast-paced world of the future, travel time becomes not time wasted but time gained and it is now only a matter of time until this technology transforms not only the industry, but out personal lives as well.
This article can be found on PwC's 'World in beta' blog here