You can’t get a coffee in Silicon Valley without overhearing a conversation about self-driving cars and the technologies that will power the autonomous future. Who are the innovators? How will they disrupt the automotive industry as we know it? What are the most exciting examples that we can actually see today?
Two recent mobility conferences — Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel by Autotech Council and the Western Automobile Journalists and Auto Tech R&D Summit —gave me a glimpse into the answers. With representation from auto OEMs, suppliers, startups, investors, educators, and journalists, the conferences featured conversations around autonomous mobility challenges (and solutions) and even showcased a few product demonstrations from startups and automakers.
Here is a roundup of what’s being discussed:
Designing for the Future of Autonomous Mobility
Major automakers and technology companies are investing heavily in global self-driving initiatives. And while autonomous driving technologies are still evolving, it’s pretty clear that fully autonomous cars will be the mainstream reality in the not-so-distant future.
Once autonomous vehicles arrive on the scene, our commute experiences will change dramatically — and so will the design of passenger vehicles. Whether you need to catch up on sleep, handle work on the road, or finish your morning yoga or workout session, you’ll want a vehicle that accommodates your personal preferences. Self-driving fleets with specialized designs will offer unique services: mobile spas, salons, theatres, fitness centers, and health clinics.
Danny Stillion, partner and executive design director at IDEO, shared IDEO’s visualization of life with driverless cars. Four scenarios — Moving People, Moving Things, Moving Spaces, and Moving Together — depicted how our daily lives might be transformed in the autonomous era. One thing is certain: Autonomous cars will change the way we experience life in many ways, some that we can predict and some that are beyond our imagination.
The Intersection of On-Demand Mobility and Autonomous
New mobility services, such as ridesharing and carsharing, have already impacted people’s transportation choices, especially in urban areas. What happens when we add autonomous driving to the mix? Who will be at the forefront of powering the next generation of autonomous mobility services?
Today, 70% of the cost of running a ridehailing service is the cost of the driver. Remove the driver from the equation, and ridehailing becomes significantly less expensive than owning a car. We expect to see personal car ownership fall off (initially in urban areas) as people consume transportation as a service, whenever and however they need it.
Companies whose current business models are based on private vehicle ownership are recognizing the threat. How can they redefine their businesses to prepare for the autonomous future? Of course, auto OEMs are at the forefront of new mobility innovations, but auto dealerships, car rental companies, auto clubs, insurance companies, and even transit agencies are also preparing for this seismic shift.
At Ridecell, we envision a future with a wide set of players offering on-demand, multi-modal transportation, each with a different value proposition. To serve the shifting needs for transportation and for more specialized services, it will be imperative that this next generation of mobility providers form cross-functional partnerships and cross-network alliances.
Mainstreaming Electric Vehicles (EVs)
In 2016, plug-in vehicles in the U.S. accounted for 1% of all new passenger vehicles sold. While it’s possible that electric cars could remain a niche product for many years, technology advancements suggest that the price of plug-in cars will fall much faster than expected — making them cost-competitive with traditional petroleum-powered cars by 2025 or 2030. A recent report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that EVs will account for 54% of new car sales by 2040.
Advancements in battery technology (higher density, longer range), aggressive policies promoting zero-emission vehicles, and EV-charging infrastructure will definitely have an impact in mainstreaming EVs. At the same time, an important use case for mass adoption of EVs will be autonomous mobility-as-a-service. Most EVs are built with drive-by-wire systems that create a more compatible and flexible platform for integration of autonomous technologies. As utilization of autonomous vehicles in mobility service scenarios increases, EVs provide the inherent advantages of substantially lower operational costs, reduced maintenance, and longer life expectancy. These advantages will further drive down the cost of autonomous mobility services — creating an exponential adoption curve for transportation-as-a-service offerings.
New Kids on the Block
At Auto Tech R&D Summit, several new startups and innovators presented their pitches. Here are two that caught my attention:
AutoX was founded with the mission to democratize autonomy and to make autonomous driving universally accessible. Their technology relies on a camera-first self-driving solution that costs a tiny fraction of traditional Lidar-based approaches. AutoX is working on a full-stack AI software solution to achieve full level-5 vehicle autonomy at an affordable cost.
Drive Time Metrics develops a cloud-based platform for accessing, displaying, and reporting data from connected cars. Positioned as an aggregator, the company partners with auto manufacturers and their systems providers to collect anonymous audio-listening data from millions of vehicles. The data is then used to develop sophisticated analytics and deliver insights into listening behavior, used by audio providers, advertisers, ad agencies, music labels, and consulting firms, as well as by their automotive partners.
We stand at the threshold of a transportation revolution that will fundamentally change the way we travel from point A to point B. The disruptive trends powering this transformation include on-demand mobility, autonomous driving technology, and electric vehicles. There’s an exciting future ahead for all of us in the mobility industry. Stay tuned for more news, more innovations, and more insights.
Author: Deepti Tiku, Director of Corporate Marketing, Ridecell