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Transport Of Tomorrow

The pace of life and commuting is putting a lot of stress on already crowded cities around the world. Inadequate infrastructure, lack of space and cost are pushing citizens to live further away from their place of work

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There is much talk about self-driving cars for a few years now. There is no doubt that the next big thing in our lives after mobile devices will be autonomous mobility. Autonomous vehicles are those, which can drive themselves without any human intervention, employing inbuilt software, sensors, and communication systems. The driving capability of the autonomous vehicles can vary based on the design as well as the amount of automation built in them. Different software may give different attributes to these cars or trucks etc. Digital giants like Google, Apple, Amazon, Softbank and Baidu and almost all the major automobile manufacturers from General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota to BMW, Daimler, JLR and Nissan and also companies like Activ, Delphi, Softbank, and Uber are racing towards their own version of the self-driven vehicles. Expect the first commercial deployment by 2020 at least in a few urban areas. According to a report in Business Insider, “PwC predicts that the total number of cars on the road in the US and EU will drop from 556 million last year to 416 million in 2030.” My personal sense is that this number will be far exceeded.

There are several reasons why this technology upheaval will change the way we travel and move goods and people. With rapid urbanization more people are migrating to large cities. As big urban conglomeration happens the distance of intracity commute will only increase. Though billions are being spent to build public transport infrastructure it will never be enough. Rising personal incomes is triggering more and more people to upgrade to personal vehicles. However, traffic congestion in almost every city in the world is becoming a nightmare for commuters. Let's not forget transport; largely automobiles which kill over 1.5 million people in accidents annually. These are mainly owing to human error or under-regulated traffic.

Arguably, simultaneous progress in non-carbon fuel vehicles will further act as a catalyst for change. Autonomous mobility, together with shared transport platforms is the answer. 

The pace of life and commuting is putting a lot of stress on already crowded cities around the world. Inadequate infrastructure, lack of space and cost are pushing citizens to live further away from their place of work. Long travel time, traffic congestion, pollution, housing, and social services shortages are undermining the quality of life today. Roughly half of the world’s population live in urban areas now, according to the United Nations, and that number is expected to surge to 68% by 2050. As Raphael Gindrat, Co-Founder of Bestmile, a fleet management company wrote in a piece for Forbes recently, “New mobility services have the potential to ease these strains. But it won’t happen if we don’t change the way we think about autonomous vehicles, nor if we apply existing models of vehicle use to the future.” It seems logical that perhaps shared mobility services like Uber, Lyft, Didi and Ola will be the first to introduce self-driving vehicles. Goods vehicles like vans and trucks perhaps will follow this even as the first self-driving cars would be launched by 2020. By the end of next decade, a vast majority will use shared mobility as their primary mode of transport. Personal cars and other vehicles will be used for leisure driving or short distances. Another trend emerging is small micro cars and scooters etc. for personal transportation for shorter commutes. 

Obviously, this will happen first in controlled environments in large campuses or other restricted areas. China will perhaps lead the world in autonomous mobility followed by Scandinavians countries and the US.

Automated vehicles are not a new idea. Airlines have been semi-autonomous for years. A pilot will handle take off but most of the time autopilot is on and some systems will even allow for “auto-landing” while the pilots monitor the aircraft. Similarly, driverless trains and metro have been around for a decade. Recently the increased use of drones as a means of delivery has been introduced in many countries. It makes a lot more sense for the world to move to this relatively safer and efficient system in the near future. Since these vehicles will run on some software it will be easy to upgrade traffic laws and other vital information regarding routes, traffic, repair and maintaining of infrastructure via a simple over the air update. Unlike human drivers who may or may not have access to such information or lack the ability or are plain lazy to follow instructions, an automated vehicle will have no such compunction. However, there are still issues about how the transition from the present transport systems and regulation will take place since it may take several years to reach a state of complete autonomy.

Globally, automakers and transporters are aggressively focusing on autonomous vehicles as a panacea for tomorrow’s needs. It is expected both regulatory pressures and economic compulsions (with oil trading at USD 80 a barrel) will propel customer demand. A switch to shared self-driving vehicles already got these companies to innovate and customize their product portfolio to remain competitive. Increased investments by automakers, the changing needs and behaviour of customers, and environment-friendly features of autonomous vehicles are expected to drive market growth. The market is analysed based on the sensors, hardware, software, services, regions, and autonomous vehicle types. Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to play a significant role in the global autonomous vehicle market. The automakers and technical vendors are investing in AI to develop these robotic vehicles. In fact, today, even the smallest cars come with some amount of autonomy like inbuilt GPS, self-diagnostics and parking assistance. High-end cars like Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus etc. have already incorporated AI in their systems and these cars carry almost a mini computer inside making them the semi-autonomous. Furthermore, vehicle shared services such as car sharing/ taxi sharing will reach a higher adoption rate as individuals are most likely to use these kind of services due to greater affordability and ease. The adoption rate of semi-autonomous vehicles is expected to grow at a rapid rate as the consumers and enterprises are investing heavily on autonomous features even as self-driving cars come on the road.
 In the next couple of years, fully autonomous vehicles (Level 1 & 2) are expected to be launched. Once level 4 and level 5 vehicles (fully self-driven) are launched in/after 2025, we will see a seminal change in personal mobility and goods transport. With over 100 major corporations across the entire value chain investing substantial talent and money in the future of human movement its certain that what was still sci-fi a few decades ago will be a reality in the coming decade. has forecasted the global autonomous vehicles market revenue to grow at a CAGR of 39.6% during the forecast period 2017-2027 reaching $126.8 billion by 2027. Obviously, this figure will only rise exponentially by 2030. 

We have seen that increasingly with technological advancement humans have begun to adapt (and adopt) newer devices much faster than even 2 decades ago. Rapid integration of AI into basic microchip almost everything we use will have a large autonomous content. Ubiquitous connectivity, soon with 5G technology which allows much higher bandwidth and speed, Internet of Things (IoT) followed by the Internet of Industrial Things (IoIT) will become a part of our day to day lives seamlessly. Autonomous mobility is the next extension of this. In an earlier article, I had talked about how disintermediation will be overtaken by reintermediation where huge databases using blockchains will guide us as in our day to day living from work, leisure, health, education, security, finance, communication, travel, and transportation.

There are several concerns, which Governments, society, and experts have. As we know the automobile and mobility Industries constitute a large part of global GDP (10% ++) and provide employment to millions of people. Such a radical change in both the manufacture and use of automated means may lead to large-scale unemployment and redundancies in infrastructure and jobs. However, while several persons will lose jobs, almost the same number of jobs in the newer transport sector will also emerge. There will be more people involved in writing software, maintenance, and upkeep of not only vehicles but backend logistics and management. Reskilling 5 million people is a long and arduous process. The laws will need to be updated and rewritten. Allied services like Insurance, financing and traffic management will need to be reworked if not reimagined. Ethical questions like- does the autonomous vehicle save in case of an accident –the occupants of a vehicle or pedestrians (or others) – need careful study. We have seen after every major technological upheaval there is always a time of social uncertainty if not chaos.

However autonomous mobility is an idea whose time has come. India with all its complexities and peculiarities is one of the largest employers of professional driver in personal carriage. Chaotic traffic and congested areas will probably take a little longer but the first autonomous car should be visible within 5 years. As a country which has now leapfrogged in digital adoption I see a quick uptake of this new technology in the years to follow. We need to be prepared for it as humanity, nation, industry and citizens. We have only a few years before the change happens. It will happen I am certain.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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magazine 13 October 2018

Amit Khanna

The author is an experienced media and entertainment professional in India. He has worked in Theatre, radio, Music, journalism, television, films and Digital Media for 5 decades. He was also the founder chairman of Reliance Entertainment.

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